Long Live Dersu!

Dersu the Trapper: A True Account by V.K. Arseniev is one of my favorite books, and I owe my discovery of it to my friend Bill Roorbach, who once showed up at a cocktail party with a dog-eared copy and just would not shut up about how wonderful it was. He insisted upon reading aloud the scene where Arseniev and Dersu, caught alone in a frozen swamp, must hurriedly weave together a shelter of rushes as a Siberian blizzard descends upon them. That chapter got me hooked. Jaimy Gordon, who wrote the preface to the McPherson & Company edition, describes the book this way: "A Russian classic little known in the west, Dersu the Trapper is at once a geographer's memoir of his expeditions in the Siberian Far East, and a tale of adventure on the wild frontier in the same family with the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fennimore Cooper and the Western novels of Irish-born adventure writer Mayne Reid, both of which certainly influenced it." I'm not sure what I could add to further describe this weird and wonderful tale except to say that the woods-wise Dersu (my understanding is that he was a fictional composite of several of Arseniev's guides) remains one of my favorite characters in literature.

The great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made a film version titled Dersu Uzala which, for some reason, I've never got around to renting, although I'm a big Kurosawa fan. It's almost worth restarting my NetFlix subscription.