Tayler, Jeffrey 1962(?)-
TAYLER, Jeffrey 1962(?)-
Male. Born c. 1962; married. Education: Doctoral study in Russian and East European history, University of Virginia.
Home—Russia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Company, Trade Division, Adult Editorial, 8th Floor, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.
Has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, 1988-90, Warsaw, 1990-92, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 1992-93; freelance writer and photographer; interpreter; co-manager of an American security company operating in Moscow, Russia; correspondent for National Public Radio and Atlantic Monthly.
Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia, Hungry Mind Press (St. Paul, MN), 1999.
Facing the Congo, Ruminator Books (St. Paul, MN), 2000.
Glory in a Camel's Eye: Trekking through the Moroccan Sahara, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor to The Best American Travel Writing, edited by Jason Wilson and Bill Bryson, Houghton Mifflin, 2000; also contributor to periodicals, including Condé Nast Traveler, Harper's, and Spin. Contributing editor, Atlantic Monthly.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A novel set in Moscow.
A restless spirit all his life, Jeffrey Tayler has made a name for himself as a travel writer who journeys to the world's most forbidding, oppressive, and inhospitable places. Tayler's yearning to travel, he told Rolf Potts in Rolf Pott's Vagabonding, came to him while he was a junior in college: "I developed the conviction that, for me, truths of some exalted and liberating sort resided in foreign lands, and decided that my life would be better led elsewhere." Adept at foreign languages—he speaks Russian, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and several Romance languages—Tayler decided to travel. First, he traveled to Greece, Italy, Spain, and other European points before ending up in Moscow. For years, Tayler had been fascinated by Russian culture and history. "Ever since I was a teenager," he told John Coyne on the Peace Corps Writers Web site, "Russia, Russians, Russian literature, and Russian history have played a role in my life that no one else or nothing ever would equal. Most of my heroes were Russian—Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov among them; many of my favorite writers and works of literature were Russian; my favorite poets and bards were Russian." Having worked for the Peace Corps in Morocco and Warsaw, he found an assignment in Moscow and eventually married a Russian. His respect and admiration for the Russian people led Tayler's desire to know the landscape better, and so he set off on an epic journey that he describes in his first book, Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia.
In a 1993 excursion that extended over eight thousand miles from Magadan in Siberia to the border of Poland, Tayler made a trip that was more ambitious and risky than even most native Russians would dare to hazard. Facing minus-forty-degree temperatures, polluted industrial landscapes, despairing and impoverished people, and frustrating bureaucrats, Taylor records what CNN.com writer Emily Soares described as a "melancholy" trip in Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia. The book is not an ordinary travel guide that would interest aspiring tourists, but rather a deeply felt look into the world of post-Soviet Russia. However, said Soares, "Tayler discovers that the inhospitable land he covers is warm on the inside," filled with people who are hospitable and try to celebrate life as much as they mourn their hopeless lot. The book, Soares concluded, "is a compelling look at a massive nation's messy and uneven transformation." "Refreshingly," added a Publishers Weekly critic, "cracker-barrel discussion of who 'won the cold war' and suggestions for reform are left out." "Tayler," asserted Booklist writers Thomas Gaughan and Jack Helbig, "is a skilled craftsman who could become a significant new voice in travel literature. Compelling and deeply unsettling reading."
Despite such praise, Tayler initially had a difficult time finding a publisher for Siberian Dawn. While the book gathered dust on editors' desks, he decided to go on another excursion that, he hoped, would be a journey of self-discovery. His plan was to recreate the original trip English explorer Henry Morton Stanley took in the nineteenth century. He would go to the Democratic Republic of Congo—formerly Zaire—and take a barge up the Congo River, returning back to the coast in a dugout canoe called a pirogue. As with his Siberian adventure, the trip would be extremely hazardous, though for different reasons. Tayler would have to battle terrible weather, hordes of biting insects, illness, robbers, hostile native people, corrupt soldiers, ferocious crocodiles, and many other dangers. Finally, on his trip back in the canoe, his guide became seriously ill, and Tayler decided to call an end to his voyage. The decision came not only because of the hardships, but also because he had reached an unavoidable conclusion: "I found myself stung by my failure and trying to deny what I would later come to see as obvious: that I had exploited Zaire as a playground on which to solve my own rich-boy existential dilemmas." He admits to himself, as he notes in his book, that his "drama of self-actualization proved obscenely trivial beside the suffering of the Zaireans and the injustices of their past." Thus, Tayler's Facing the Congo becomes not just a travel adventure but also a deep exploration into psychological and moral issues. "Eloquent and sincere," stated a Publishers Weekly writer, "Tayler brings immense cultural sensitivity to his journey, fully conscious that the poverty and misery are in large part due to Western hegemony." Joshua Kuritzky, writing for CNN.com, further noted: "Tayler, a talented writer and astute observer, is constantly aware of the larger meaning of his trip through Zaire"; the critic added that "observations like this are what make Tayler such an excellent, and underrated, travel writer."
Tayler's next expedition was to another forbidding land: the blistering climate of the Draa Valley of Morocco. Traveling by camel, mule, and foot, he crossed over three hundred miles of desert to get a better look into the world of nomadic Muslims in a culturally complex land. Glory in a Camel's Eye: Trekking through the Moroccan Sahara thus explores the worldview of a people whose religion permeates every aspect of their difficult lives. Reviewers were particularly pleased by the fact that Tayler is not so much interested in the politics of the Arab world as he is in the society itself. "Readers overwhelmed by the many dense texts available on Islamic politics will enjoy this balanced, enlightening memoir," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Tayler, wrote Dennis Drabelle in a Washington Post Book World review, "is a sharp observer of natural phenomena, even more so of cultural traits, and his passion for all things Arab is refreshing." And Library Journal contributor Mari Flynn concluded that "Tayler offers us a memorable picture of a desiccated land and its survivors."
In his interview with Potts, Tayler, who planned to write a novel set in Moscow, offered this advice to aspiring travel writers: "know the place about which you propose to write, or know what you want to research there before you go. You can learn new things along the way, but you should start with a plan and be able to offer an insider's perspective."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 1999, Thomas Gaughan and Jack Helbig, review of Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia, p. 959; July, 2003, George Coehn, review of Glory in a Camel's Eye: Trekking through the Moroccan Sahara, p. 1858.
Library Journal, February 15, 1999, Rebecca Miller, review of Siberian Dawn, p. 169; July, 2003, Mari Flynn, review of Glory in a Camel's Eye, p. 112.
New York Times, December 3, 2000, Gary Krist, "Travel."
Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1999, review of Siberian Dawn, p. 82; August 28, 2000, review of Facing the Congo, p. 68; May 12, 2003, review of Glory in a Camel's Eye, p. 57.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), July 25, 2003, Ed Halloran, "'Camel's Eye' a Cultural Trek," p. D30.
Scotland on Sunday, April 8, 2001, Brian Hennigan, "Reviews: Tales from the Riverbank," p. 12.
Times (London, England), May 19, 2001, Steve Jelbert, review of Facing the Congo, p. 22.
Times Literary Supplement, February 22, 2002, Mark Hudson, "Another Bend in the River."
Washington Post, September 28, 2003, Jerry V. Haines, "Road Reads," p. 2.
Washington Post Book World, July 22, 2001, Afshin Molavi, review of Facing the Congo, p. T7; May 25, 2003, Dennis Drabelle, "Making Tracks," p. T4.
Peace Corps Writers Web site,http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/ (April 7, 2004), John Coyne, "Talking with Jeffrey Tayler."
Rolf Potts' Vagabonding,http://www.rolfpotts.com/ (April 7, 2004), interview with Tayler.*