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Yuri Rytkheu Books In Order

Publication Order of Seedbank Books

A Dream in Polar Fog (1970)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
When the Whales Leave (1977)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Chukchi Bible (2000)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Yuri Ryktheu was a Russian author best known for the “Seedbank” series of novels. He was born in Uelen in the Siberian region of Chukotka. He had a very active life as he hunted in Arctic waters, worked on Arctic geological expeditions, sailed the Bering Sea, and wrote more than a dozen collections of stories and novels. His bestselling novel “A Dream in Polar Fog” won the Notable Book Pacific Rim Prize in 2006. During the 1950s, Yuri became one of the most popular literary talents and the voice of the Chukchi people, a small national minority that needed a voice. Himself a member of the Chukchi, he became a unique voice for the almost disappearing community that lives in one of the most inhospitable yet majestic environments on the planet.

Ryktheu graduated from a seven-year school in his hometown of Uelen and wanted to go to college at the Institute of the Peoples of the North. But never got an admission letter given that he was deemed too young. He decided that he needed to move to Leningrad if he was to complete his studies. However, given that he had no money, he had to take on odd jobs to finance his journey. Some of the jobs he took during this time included stevedoring at a hydrography base, trapping animals, working on geological expeditions and on the high seas. In 1947, he got a job with “Soviet Chukotka,” a district-based magazine that gave him his first break as he got the opportunity to publish his first poems and short fiction. It was while he was working at the magazine that he met Pyotr Skorik, a scholar working out of Leningrad that had been instrumental in helping him move and settle in Leningrad. Yuri Ryktheu then graduated from Leningrad State University and by his early twenties, he was publishing his fiction in “Young Leningrad” before he moved to more notable publications such as “The Far East,” “Young World,” and “Ogonyok” among others. “The People of Our Coast” was the first collection of stories that he got published in 1953. During this time, he was also actively involved in the translation of the works of Tikhon Syomushkin, Gorky, Pushkin and Tolstoy into his native Chukchi tongue. He also worked for a regional newspaper and wrote the “Chukotkan Saga,”a a collection of short stories that earned him popularity from both foreign and Russian readers. He also worked for UNESCO and gave lectures at several universities in the US and across the world. He died in 2008 in St Petersburg.

The Chukchee of which Ryktheu was one originally lived as nomadic reindeer herders and hunters though the Soviet-era policies significantly disrupted their way of life. They were forced to live in collective farms where it was difficult if not impossible to continue living as they had done for centuries. However, they had managed to survive and even thrived under the system until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. Their way of life once again came under serious threat from the liberalization of the Russian economy. The author wrote his novels in both the Chukchee and Russian language chronicling the way modernization threatened his people. After the end of the Soviet Union, he also published in German, Dutch, English and other major languages of Europe. In his novels, short stories, articles, and poems, he describes the Chukchee way of life and how much the Soviet Union had significantly impacted it. Much of the time he criticized civilization terming it a silent genocide that had been severe against indigenous communities.

Yuri Rytkheu’s “A Dream in Polar Fog” is both an ethnographic chronicle and cross-cultural journey of the Chukotka people while also being an emotionally and politically charged adventure narrative. The lead in the story is a Canadian sailor named John MacLennan that is left stranded on the Siberian coastline. The narrative also tells of how he was adopted by the Chukchi community which teaches him how to live as he ought to in the promotion of human values. Over time, he learns that his new community is composed of real people that share the worst and the best of human characteristics that he knows from his own kind. Tensions rise and fall, wounds are healed with honesty and compassion even in the mid of a tragedy. Rythkeu writes in a provocative, humorous and empathetic voice that guides his readers through the beautiful landscape of Siberia and the beauty and complexity of a vanishing world.

“The Chukchi Bible” by Yuri Rytkheu is, for the most part, a story of the author’s grandfather set at a time when the native cultures of Siberia had been declared worthless. All children of the Chukchi are to be schooled according to Bolshevik ways rather than their own. The last shaman of the Uelen has been experiencing difficulties and failures with his calling but has stuck fast to his beliefs though as the wise man of the community, he is also one of the most traveled. He is also conversant with English and Russian and brought home medical instruments that he used to expand his shaman practice. It began with a political exile named Bogoraz that lived in North-eastern Anthropology and committed his time to the craft. After helping him in his study, Mletkin the last shaman in the community signs up for work on a whaling ship and also starts to study anthropology. It is from the time on the ship that he sees how much exploitation is being perpetrated and how much negative impact the business is having on sea animal colonies. The novel pits the lead against an equally formidable dark spirit that is on a quest to destroy the harmony in nature. From the shaman’s journey in the sea, sky and arctic tundra we learn of the culture and way of life of the “True People” known as Luoravetlan starting from creation right up to the first contact with the Cossacks.

Yuri Rytkheu’s “When the Whales Leave” is an elegantly told and memorable novella. The first part tells the folklore of how the Chukchi people and whales became siblings. In the second and third parts of the novella, the story tells of how modern values have impacted this relationship and the ecosystem. It is a beautiful origin story set in the Bering Sea region of the Arctic, the Chukchi Sea and the Chukchi Peninsula in the Russian Federation. Rich in both myth and truth, it tells of an ancient people whose life is changing as the world and ecosystem that they are living in is impacted by modern values.

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