Peskov, Vassily. Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family's Fifty-year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness. Translated by Marian Schwartz. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

In 1978, a team of exploratory geologists in a remote area of Siberia happened upon the existence of the Lykov family: father, 81 at the outset of the story, two sons aged 54 and 38, and two daughters, aged 44 and 37. They lived in complete isolation from civilization in the cold forestland called the taiga.

The subtitle of the book, "One Russian Family's Fifty-year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness," is a perfect summary. The Lykovs were adherents of the Old Belief, clinging to a strict observance of Christianity predating the eighteenth-century religious schism in Russia. The Lykovs had fled the chaos of Russia - and the world - in the 1920's and had been alone every since. As the historian who met them first recounted to the journalist-author, it was "like something halfway between Peter the Great and the Stone Age!"

They get their fire from a tinderbox. They use a torch for light. They go barefoot in summer and wear birch-bark shoes in winter. They have been living without salt. They don't know bread. ... Recent events are unknown to them. Electricity, radio, and satellites are beyond their imaginations.

Author Peskov offers vivid, often touching, portraits of daily life in his annual visits to the Lykovs over ten years. He chronicles what they grew (potatoes, turnips, carrots) and foraged (acorns and berries), how they clothed themselves in hemp and birch-bark, how they kept their hut in frigid winter, how they related their history in accounts of the past. The details make a fascinating narrative, and the glossy plates of photographs and a couple of maps are very useful.

Some reviewers have wondered what has happened so many years later. Peskov saw the deterioration of the elder Lykov, who died within a season of his last visit; only the elder daughter Agafia was alive at the 1991 publication of the Russian edition of this book. At forty-nine, she had refused to leave. "I shall live as we have always lived," are her departing words to Peskov - and the rest of us. "This," remarks the author, "may be the greatest solitude on the earth today."