If you want to have reindeer – a trilingual book with poems of Yuri Vella made by Anne Bouin

20150710-_MG_6889 Some days ago, I received a book. My friend Eva Toulouze gave it to me in Paris to take it with me in autumn, when I will travel to Siberia. I’ll have to give it to the family of the late Yuri Vella in order to be placed in the museum, that will soon open in his home village of Varyogan in Western Siberia.

20150710-_MG_6890The book is such an astonishing piece of art that I decided to take photos and ask Anne Bouin, the artist who made the book if I can share it in my blog. It is not the first time I have hold this unique book in my hands. I have seen it more than a year ago in Tartu at the conference organised to honour our deceased friend, the Nenets Poet and reindeer herder Yuri Vella.

20150710-_MG_6891I have to admit that nowadays I am reading mostly on the screen of my computer or smartphone. When I saw the book, I had an ambivalent feeling. It reminds me of something quite old. I had associations of a precious old manuscript from a library or a museum. On the other hand, I thought that this is how books will look like in the future. Something you can only appreciate, when you hold it in your hands, something you cannot copy even with a 3D-printer. All other books will disappear or only be printed at occasion, when you need to read something on paper. But books in order to keep them, to put them in a bookshelf, to get them from time to time in order to show them to guests, to experience the materiality of the cover and to touch the surface of the pages, such books will survive, will be produced and bought and inherited to the next generations. From this perspective, this book is an ultramodern book.

20150710-_MG_6892Anne Bouin sewed the book by hand. It took me some time to realise that every time I look at a page I discover something new. Some places look as if they start to fade away, some look like a palimpsest. They unite the feeling of Arctic landscapes with the associations of centuries’ old books and textile art from the south. They are like a labyrinth but seem to offer Ariadne’s thread as well. At the first glance, it looks like a children’s book with pleasant colours and cute picture, but then you discover the subtle and refined way the artist puts the texts and the pictures into a dialogue.


Morning at the lake

Two mists came to meet by the water. One came from the lake – the pink one. The other from the forest – the violet one

– Who are you?

– I am the mist.

– And I am the mist, too.

– Then, why don’t I see you?

– I don’t see you either …

And all the meanwhile a young deer lay close by in the thicket, chewing the grass, his eyes closed, and he saw and heard everything.


It is an unusual book as the title tells already. ‘If you want to have a reindeer’ … Who could be that ‘you’? The text contains fragments of Yuri Vella’s ‘ABC of the reindeer herder’ with recommendations for his fellow reindeer herders. I know from experience that they rarely take a book in their hands. The few, who carry on with reindeer herding in the midst of oil fields in Western Siberia do not need written books in order to understand the business inherited from their fathers. The small scene described in the middle of the book gives a hint – an innocent bystander, the reindeer, witnesses the dialogue between the two mists who talk to each other but cannot see each other.


The book is a text in several aspects. There is the handwritten trilingual text of Yuri Vella in English, French and Russian. Russian might not been the original language as the author’s mother tongue was Nenets, but he was fluent also in his wife’s language Khanty. He was trilingual in thinking and communicating but lost the fight against the powerful ideology of monolingualism. His children and grandchildren are fluent only in Russian. Only in his books and writing Yuri insisted to have as much translations into different languages as possible, often in the same book. He was not aiming at the prestige to be a writer translated into all big languages of Europe, but believed that every language adds its own perspective, its own nuances to the text.


Intuitively Anne Buin felt probably that she was very close to the concept of writing of the Siberian cultures. The Khanty language knows only one word for ornament, embroidery and writing. It is a women’s task to ornament the clothes with complicated meandering applications, to cut geometrical ornaments into the vessels made of birch bark. All of them have symbolic meaning and are something like extensions of the human body of the user or the owner. Their main task is to protect the human body from evil influences. The bad spirit or the evil eye get lost or trapped in the complicated, meandering and multi-layered ornaments as the good spirits get attracted by their beauty that reveals the mastery of the author to the outside world.

20150710-_MG_6899To attract the good spirits and to fight the evil with the threads of words is also the aim of the poems of Yuri Vella. The book presents a dialogue of the maze of threads of words and seams building interlaced streams of meaning which opens up to the one who opens the book every time anew.



About Stephan Dudeck

Anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, the Centre for Arctic Social Studies at the European University at Saint Petersburg and the Centre of Arctic and Siberian Exploration at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia
This entry was posted in Reindeer Herding, Tradition, Visual Anthropology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to If you want to have reindeer – a trilingual book with poems of Yuri Vella made by Anne Bouin

  1. archecotech says:

    Reblogged this on Life in Russia and commented:
    This is a wonderful collection of poems from a Nenets Poet and reindeer herder.

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