Book review: Reeling in Russia, by Fen Montaigne

Reeling in Russia - coverThis book is not all about fly-fishing. In fact, there is quite few words about the sport we fly anglers cherish. “Reeling in Russia” is a book about a wonderful, exhilarating, moving, but also exhausting, scary, surprising odyssey of an American journalist travelling alone through Russia from West to East, from Kola to Kamchatka. In his long journey, Fen Montaigne makes a point to travel by ground (boat, train, car, truck) rather than by air, which he nearly achieves to do. He fishes in different spots on the way, but true is, he doesn’t catch much fish. He understands that poaching has taken a hard toll on Russian rivers, even in the deepest of Siberia. Fortunately, fishing is not the main reason for his excursion, but merely an excuse, a red thread to his wandering in the Russian countryside.

What I liked most in this novel is the way Montaigne narrates the numerous encounters with the people of this fascinating country: young or old, Asian or European, pro or against the government. He makes true friends in many places throughout his peregrination. During his quest, he tries to understand the history of Russia, and its recent turn-around from being a communist country to being a capitalistic country. He even manages to visit a few Gulag camps from Stalin’s dark era.

Fen Montaigne portraitNot everything is bright and sunny in this book; in fact, the author is exposed to a lot of poverty along his path. It must have taken him a lot of courage to fulfill his journey. He describes things in the most objective way possible, of course distorted by his westerner’s eyes. But all along the book there is hope for a better future underlying in most situations.

Having fished myself in Russia before, I could recognize quite a few situations described by Fen Montaigne in this novel, and enjoyed reading it cover to cover. So if you have fished in Russia, if you intend to do so in the future, or if you are slightly interested in this immense country that is Russia, then I urge you to dive into Fen Montaigne’s masterpiece!