Book Review: John Vaillant’s “The Tiger”

As Alexander von Humboldt so fittingly put it, “the most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” In today’s society we often come upon moral debates of our stance on the conservation of nature. We hear many sides of these arguments and are swayed this way and that by what we hear. Sometimes, presenters are blunt and outright about what they want. Other times, they hide their true meanings and intentions within other actions. In John Vaillant’s novel, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, he does just that. Vaillant uses his writing to persuade, inform, and entertain us into taking his side on things.

When reading a book, what is the one thing that makes us read? It’s the plot, the intrigue, the “what happens next” kind of curiosity in all of us. Vaillant is an accomplished writer and understands this. His writing style reflects this very well. He writes in a short burst of story followed by a long backstory of seemingly little importance. What this does is it creates tension within the story. It’s almost as if there’s numerous cliffhangers for every single point he makes. We have this human desire to know what’s going on, but because our knowledge is limited by Vaillant’s timing in his writing, we’re kept in the dark. We’re entertained to follow this story of a man hunting a tiger. We can’t help but keep reading through these facts and histories of this enchanting land called “Primorye.” This edge-of-your-seat feeling within each of us keeps us reading and makes us identify with the book. Anything that is enjoyable becomes much more trustworthy to us.

While we read these seemingly unimportant histories and backgrounds, we are actually being deceived. These tangents and side notes are actually a perfect example of Chekhov’s Gun. For those unfamiliar with this term, let me explain. As readers, we believe the main point of the book is the plot, right? Seems logical. But, no. The plot is, as we already discussed, the thing that entices us to read. It is not necessarily what Vaillant wants us to read. The tangents that seem to be pointless at the time are actually the important part. They seem completely insignificant and almost as if they are distractions, but they give depth to the story and bring in outside ideas the author wants us to understand. For example, just in chapter 2 (pages 19-31), Vaillant interrupts this infant story to give an ecological background of the area. He tells stories of past hunters in the area and even gives seemingly trivial facts about the kinds of animals that live there and their interactions with each other. What we don’t understand yet is that these asides from the story are his true message.

Finally, now that we understand his form of delivery, we can work to understand the content that Vaillant is delivering. He hooks us with a fantastical story of a man-eating tiger. He captivates us with our natural urge to understand and to know. Yet, throughout he gives us a history lesson on Russia? And of poaching? And of tigers? What kind of sense does that make? After reading the epilogue, it all makes sense. The epilogue is our key to figuring out his intentions throughout the book. We realize that the asides weren’t meaningless jargon to draw out a story that was too short to be adapted to a novel. They were the pieces of background information we needed to understand Vaillant’s position on conservation of nature. He used this simple but exciting story of an epic hunt to keep us locked in while slipping bits and pieces of his ideology into the spaces in between. Unwittingly, we were taken in and filled with the beliefs of the author. His true intent wasn’t to entertain us, but to persuade us to believe as he did!

Although a great book, we can’t simply read this book at face value. It has so much more depth to it. We were simply pawns in this case. Not knowing that we were being moved or influenced one way or another. Vaillant is a skilled writer who knew exactly what his style would do. He hid his intentions well. As I said, his true motivations were hidden to me until the epilogue. No matter how well disguised, however, his intentions weren’t as pure as he would have us believe. In the constantly changing world today, who knows whether anything we read can be believed. If a successful author can’t be believed, can anyone? How about a college student writing a blog?

 

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