A Brown Man in Russia describes the fantastical travels of a young, colored American traveler as he backpacks across Russia in the middle of winter via the Trans-Siberian. The book is a hybrid between the curmudgeonly travelogues of Paul Theroux and the philosophical works of Robert Pirsig. Styled in the vein of Hofstadter, the author lays out a series of absurd, but true stories followed by a deeper rumination on what they mean and why they matter. Each chapter presents a vivid anecdote from the perspective of the fumbling traveler and concludes with a deeper lesson to be gleaned. For those who recognize the discordant nature of our world in a time ripe for demagoguery and for those who want to make it better, the book is an all too welcome antidote. It explores the current global climate of despair over differences and outputs a very different message – one of hope and shared understanding. At times surreal, at times inappropriate, at times hilarious, and at times deeply human, A Brown Man in Russia is a reminder to those who feel marginalized, hopeless, or endlessly divided that harmony is achievable even in the most unlikely of places.
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Vijay Menon is an American author, statistician, and backpacker. His TED talk, Lessons Learned on the Trans-Siberian, garnered acclaim as he described his unique experiences traveling through Russia as a person of color. This culminated in his debut novel, A Brown Man in Russia, in which he provides a lens into a Siberian winter from the perspective of a total outsider and relates subsequent lessons. In addition to Russia, Vijay has traveled to more than 50 countries in six continents over the past five years ranging from Zimbabwe to Taiwan. He graduated with dual degrees in Statistics and Economics from Duke University. Vijay has been published in The Economist, is a Duke Debate champion, and had his winning submission on global sustainability forwarded to President Barack Obama’s desk by the United Nations following their national essay contest. Prior to entering the tech industry, he worked on the Battery 500 project at IBM, performed mass spectrometry research to discover cancer biomarkers at UC Davis, helped implement micro-consignment for entrepreneurs in Guatemala, and served as a low latency data analyst for teams in the National Basketball Association. Vijay currently resides in Silicon Valley working at Scribd, the Netflix for books, as the senior product manager lead having previously completed stints at both Microsoft and Dropbox.
Endorsements and Review Quotes
“Russian literature specialists like me and many other contributors to this journal always enjoy reading and writing pedantic scholarly monographs and correcting those who ‘misunderstand’ Russian culture. Non-specialists may not always provide accurate knowledge about Russia, yet they do sometimes offer enchanting, refreshing, and defamiliarizing stories and ideas since they see Russia through a different lens. Vijay Menon’s A Brown Man in Russia: Lessons Learned on the Trans-Siberian is a book of this sort.” Jinyi Chu, Slavic and East European Journal
“My friend jokes that the title of the book should really be, ‘Brown man goes to Russia, is treated decently well and comes home happy.’” An interview for The Moscow Times
The book presents “a glowing picture of Russian people and culture – Vijay’s inspiration for this delightful book.” Jean Turner, the SCRSS Digest
“The book consists of 22 short chronological chapters, each followed by a brief one or two page ‘lesson’, a digression or commentary on the experience of the preceding chapter, such as comments on American and Russian racism. It is a nice, appropriate arrangement that evokes the experiences of many American novices traveling through Russia since the 18th century.” Norman Saul, Journal of Russian American Studies (JRAS)
“The book’s uniqueness stems from being written by a brown American traveller in Russia, a point of view not traditionally represented in travel or other types of literature, with Menon’s ruminations on his cultural position forming the backbone of the travelogue.” Yelena Furman, NYU Jordan Center
“Self-adjustment, patience, curiosity, trusting people and much more can be discovered when traveling across Russia.” Russia Beyond
“A Brown Man… is both a memoir and a self-help book; often the two should not mix within a travel book (or any book, really), but for some strange reason here they go hand-in-hand. Often funny, very adventurous, sometimes bleak and with nervous interactions, this book will open up your mind to what travelling across Russia is/was like for a person of colour, considering the media perceptions we have of the country here.” Buzz Magazine
“Vijay Menon’s account of a young, Indian American traveler backpacking across Russia comes with both travelogue anecdotes and philosophical ruminations.” Nota Benes, World Literature Today
“Exceptionally well written and an inherently fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking read, “A Brown Man in Russia” is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library collections.” Andy’s Bookshelf, Midwest Book Review
“A Brown Man in Russia is very entertaining. In between chapters on their adventures, Menon occasionally will wax philosophical, giving advice or simply describing his world views.” Nancy Horner, Bookfool
Pushkin House in London speaks to Vijay Menon and Emily Couch, who lived in Russia as an ethnically Chinese British student.
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