John Vaillant

March 28, 2019
Thorley Recital Hall

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John Vaillant is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among others. His first book, The Golden Spruce (Norton, 2005), was a bestseller and won several awards, including the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction (Canada). His second nonfiction book, The Tiger (Knopf, 2010), is also an award-winning bestseller. His latest book, a novel, is The Jaguar's Children.



In the penultimate event of the APEX season, author and journalist John Vaillant talked to the SUU community about his trip to the Russian far-east. The lecture in Thorley Recital Hall covered his book, “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival,” in addition to his process of discovering and crafting a story.

Quite often, books are turned into films, but the adaptation is rarely reversed. Vaillant, however, was so intrigued by a documentary about a Russian tiger that he felt compelled to create a book about it. This movie, which he saw at a Canadian film festival, told the story of a wounded tiger who tracked the hunter who shot him, and after successfully killing the man, went on to attack others.

Vaillant spent quite a bit of time with Yuri, a warden who was tasked with capturing and executing the tiger once it started attacking people. During their conversations, Yuri explained that while hunting tigers was illegal, it became necessary for those in remote areas, because following the collapse of communism, they had no way to receive help when circumstances became dire.

It wasn’t long until Vaillant realized that this story was deeper than it first appeared.

Even though it happened decades ago, Russia is still damaged from its governmental collapse, and one of the consequences showed up in an interview. Yuri told Vaillant that he could adjust his quotes to make the story more interesting, which seemed to be a common request during interviews. This showed him that lines are still blurred when it comes to facts in the country, which is understandable due to long-term corruption and propaganda.

Although he allowed those he interviewed to become his teachers, Vaillant rigorously fact-checked statements from interviews to ensure he had an accurate story. One of those he interviewed, a seemingly-unimportant man in the history of this event, was surprised that anyone would want to talk to him about it, and throughout the six-hour continuous interview, the man was finally able to share his story after years of ignoring the trauma of it.

Throughout the process of researching and writing his book, Vaillant’s goal was to create empathy and to truly understand what motivates individuals. In his closing remarks to the audience, Vaillant said that in polarized times, learning how to activate empathy is an individual's strongest tool because it allows them to find common humanity.

“The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” can be purchased online through Amazon or other retailers.

The spring 2019 season of A.P.E.X. Events will conclude on Tuesday, April 2, with Paul Zak giving the Festival of Excellence Keynote. The lecture will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Gilbert Great Hall of the Hunter Conference Center.


Audio Transcript