It's an extraordinary book. A 'classic,' in Russia, but... really a classic by any measure. Akira Kurasawa was inspired by this book to make his Oscar-winning movie Dersu Uzala, (1975), George Lukas was inspired by the syntax Arseniev puts in Dersu's mouth to create his character Yoda. The recent bestseller Tiger, (2010) by John Valliant, (also a lovely book) clearly takes its inspiration from Arseniev.
There's a wonderful page up by Chad Garcia, titled "Watching Dersu Uzala," which describes Kurasawa's relationship to the material. Kurasawa's movie was the first complete work he produced after a suicide attempt. I'd say--go have a read. No need for me to crib those thoughts again here, when Chad has already written them so finely.
But... I will admit, my first reaction on reading the text... it was gratitude that I did not find the material to be "dated." I love Dersu's story so much that I'd bought extra copies for several friends. I knew I would love it--but what a pleasure to read those first paragraphs, those first pages, and know that my 'share'--it was going to be a good one.
The narrative is a factual account of Arseniev's three surveying trips in the coastal area north of Vladivostok--but the story is so much larger. Friendship, the slow terrible impact of one culture upon another, the slow terrible impact of human culture upon nature...
How can one expect this book, written by a man who was born the son of a serf? From what source does such human sensitivity arise?
"Sometimes it happens that the mountain and forest have such a cheerful and attractive appearance that one would be glad to linger there for ever. In others mountains seem surly and wild. It is a strange thing that such impressions are not purely personal and subjective, but were felt by all the men in the detachment... In that spot there was an oppressive feeling in the air, something unhappy and painful, and the sensation of gloom and ill-omen was felt by us all."
This book--when I read a book like this... what I want to do is... slink away, close the door to my study, and start writing. The charge I feel, reading the descriptions, the sentences; the feeling that courses through me, knowing that I am learning something new, yet something so connected to so much of what I have thought before.
So much about reading is that spark, that sense that one has made an acquaintance of a book at a time and place where the connection one has with one's reading... can be so strong.
I'm so grateful to have met this book and to have been able to read it in this way. And such a strong book--in this case I know my feelings are not mine alone.