John Vaillant’s The Tiger recounts the true story of a man-eating tiger on a rampage in the
Russian Far East in the late 1990s, the village it terrorized, and the team of trackers sent to stop it. The events surrounding the tiger’s attacks themselves don’t take long to relate, and Vaillant makes it clear from the opening pages who is responsible for the killings (the titular tiger was never tried in a court of law, but its innocence is dubious). He takes a more holistic approach: in order to truly understand the crime, you must first understand the society in which it took place.
While this broad scope means that it isn’t always entirely clear where Vaillant’s narrative is going, the writing is sufficiently entertaining to support the occasional meandering. Take, for example, Vaillant’s suggestion that “to say that a tiger is an ‘outside’ animal is an understatement that is best appreciated when a tiger is inside”. Or, “the impact of an attacking tiger can be compared to that of a piano falling on you from a second story window. But unlike the piano, the tiger is designed to do this, and the impact is only the beginning.”
Some readers may take exception to how Vaillant ascribes intent or motivation to the tiger’s killings. He suggests that the tiger may have acted out of revenge, targeting specific victims who had previously harmed it in a botched poaching attempt. The extent to which that may be true is debatable, but nevertheless this is an interesting and well-researched story, artfully told. Recommended to anyone with an interest in conservation or the natural world.
- Tom Hall