Foreword: The Unknown Arsenyev
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xi Vladimir Arsenyev (1872–1930) is a well-known figure among Russians as a scientist, explorer, and writer. He was an officer in the Russian Imperial Army and advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1913. In his thirty years in the Russian Far East, Arsenyev took part in a dozen major (and innumerable minor) expeditions to study the forested corners of the Ussuri Kray. He is probably best known outside of Russia for Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dersu Uzala, based on Arsenyev’s book ofthesamename,whichwonanAcademyAwardin1975forBestForeign Language Film. Arsenyev’s first offering of popular literature was Across the Ussuri Kray (Dersu Uzala): Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, published in Vladivostok in 1921 and the subject of translation here. Two years later he published Dersu Uzala: Recollections of a 1907 Expedition to the Ussuri Kray. In 1926, the text of these two books was significantly edited by Soviet censors, combined, and published as In the Wilds of the Ussuri Kray. To give an example of the extent of these redactions, the first edition of Across the Ussuri Kray had forty chapters, but Soviet censorship reduced thistoonlytwenty-eight.Similarly, DersuUzalawasreducedfromthirty chapters to twenty-four. These abridged versions, reprinted again and again, are what generations of Russian readers have been exposed to. It was only in 2007 that Russian audiences were given access to the original versions, when the Primorye branch of the Russian Geographical Society, called the Society for Study of the Far East, teamed up with Foreword The Unknown Arsenyev xii Foreword Rubezh Publishers in Vladivostok to publish the original, unedited, and uncensored texts as part of a six-volume collection of Arsenyev’s writings . It is specifically the 1921 version of Across the Ussuri Kray, free from Soviet edits and censorship, that forms the basis of translation here. For thefirsttime,English-languageaudiencescanreadArsenyevunabridged and in the way that he intended. Out of all Arsenyev’s works, Across the Ussuri Kray was selected for translation first because it provides readers with an excellent introduction to the world of the Ussuri taiga and allows one to experience this wilderness as Arsenyev did. Readers are given a sense of what it’s like to be a wanderer there, lost in a boundless expanse of forest but moving resolutely toward a clear goal. ItisimportanttonotethatalthoughArsenyevwrotethisbookbased on his field journals, it should not be considered a strict documentation of fact. This is something that many Russian readers, even specialists, have not properly understood. For example, in this text Arsenyev first meets Dersu Uzala in 1902, but according to his field notes their true first encounter was in 1906. There are other examples of departure from fact within the text, usually dates or sequences of events modified to structure the narrative. But the details of his expeditions themselves and the things he saw in those places—these are all true and supported by his journals. Arsenyev made the most of his military expeditions by gathering vast amounts of information tangential to his charge. He went out of his way to document and collect local flora and fauna, as well as considerableethnographicalandarcheologicalmaterialnowhousedinmuseums all across Russia. But even more important was Arsenyev’s ability to transform the scribbles of his field journals into compelling literature. He used his talents as a writer to show others how he viewed the Ussuri Kray and to create a vivid image of the woodsman Dersu Uzala, a local tracker of the Gold tribe. It’s easy to forget that Arsenyev also authored multiple scientific texts on a range of topics, including Chinese in the Ussuri Kray (1914), Ethnographical Challenges in Eastern Siberia (1916), and The Pacific Walrus (1927). Arsenyev was appointed director of the Khabarovsk Museum in 1910, a position he held until 1919. In addition to his time at the museum, Foreword xiii he toured Moscow and Saint Petersburg giving lectures on the Far East and received medals from the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg and the Imperial Russian Geographical Society. In 1919 he was awarded lifetime honorary membership to both the National Geographic Society (United States) and the Royal Geographic Society (United Kingdom). Arsenyev had eclectic interests: military intelligence and the collection of statistical information, the study of flora and fauna, geology, cartography, ethnography, archeology, toponymy, and population demographics . Readers might be surprised to learn that Arsenyev’s only formal education came from a military infantry school in Saint Petersburg —everything else he learned on his own, either from books or from interactions with scientists. Thus, the term...


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Subject Headings

  • Ussuri River Valley (Russia and China) -- Description and travel.
  • Natural history -- Ussuri River Valley (Russia and China).
  • Dersu Uzala.
  • Arsenʹev, V. K. (Vladimir Klavdievich), 1872-1930 -- Travel -- Ussuri River Valley (Russia and China).
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