What is it about Siberia that carries on to attract our attention?
Is it the broad emptiness experiencing us on a map, as we contemplate a land that addresses most of the 10 time zones on the Trans-Siberian railway, stretching from Russia’s Ural Mountains to the steely Arctic waters of Okhotsk?
Maybe it’s the dark point that trips there – made by convicts, rebels and doomed royals – often proved deadly.
When the fates of the exiled might be less than quite, their tales endure in this persuasive debut from travel author Sophy Roberts who guides us via Russia and its outer peripheries.
Placing out through the wilderness to come across a single of The Misplaced Pianos of Siberia for a Mongolian pianist, Sophy traces the actions and historical past of these grand European instruments, courting from the time of cultural catalyst Catherine the Fantastic to the chaotic journeys forced by revolution.
The previous exile submit of Irkutsk – also recognised as the gateway to Lake Baikal – and the golden domes of wartime safehouse Novosibirsk present backdrops to this quest, but it is the men and women she satisfies who stand out.
Bell-ringing veterans and piano-tuning people show us the importance of audio to Siberia, presenting a solace comparable to the trembling chords of wonderful composers that comforted the tortured souls who trudged over the Urals to confront punishment.
But shining throughout all of this is that landscape. Etymologically, Siberia is ‘a land of slumber’ historically, it is exactly where nightmares were realised. As Sophy finds, it is also a place of bravery and dreams.