FEW travelers to Russia these days are likely to conclude -- as Jeffrey Tayler, the author of "This Side of Ultima Thule," in this issue of The Atlantic Monthly, told us he has -- that Russia, with all its troubles, is "the place I want to be, my rokovaya strana, or fated country." Even fewer would be likely to have an epiphany of that sort while stranded in a truck in the nether reaches of Siberia, battling temperatures of -40° in a blizzard-induced whiteout. And fewer still would then be likely -- if they had somehow managed to survive that predicament and had slogged on to complete a solo overland voyage from Russia's eastern coast through Siberia and into Poland -- to decide to escape the cold by making a sweltering 1,100-mile chug up the Congo River on a cargo barge. But such is the manner in which Tayler has recently spent his time. Readers of The Atlantic may remember Tayler's account of his Congo voyage, "Vessel of Last Resort" (September, 1996), as an experience they certainly will not try to reproduce. They may feel the same way about the adventures recounted in "This Side of Ultima Thule."
Since he "defected," in 1987, from the Ph.D. program in Russian and East European History at the University of Virginia, Tayler has indulged an apparently insatiable appetite for extreme travel. He has managed this in various capacities: as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, as an interpreter in northern Iraq for National Public Radio during the Gulf War, as one of the first Peace Corps staff members in Uzbekistan, as a freelance writer and photographer, and, most recently, as the Moscow representative for an American company providing physical-protection services (that is to say, bodyguards) to foreign companies operating in Russia. Tayler, whose life has been intertwined with Russia for the past fourteen years, speaks Russian with a fluency that allows him, he says, to pass for "an educated Ukrainian." He also speaks excellent Arabic, Turkish, and Greek -- and can get by in a number of Romance languages.
After a brief period in the United States, Tayler is once again back in Moscow. "I have left there three times," he says, "thinking that I would find another place to live and work, but I've always ended up returning." He is already at work for The Atlantic on further assignments that will test both his tenacity as a traveler and his abilities as a linguist.
-- THE EDITORS
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1997; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 279, No. 4; page 8.