1. The Tiger is a riveting book, with the
momentum of a thriller and the depth of insight of an extended
philosophical meditation. How does Vaillant create suspense
throughout the book? What are the major insights he offers about
tigers and the larger issues that come into focus through his
investigation of the killing of Vladimir Markov?
2. What historical forces have contributed to the desperate
conditions facing the people of the Primorye? How
understandable/forgivable is their poaching?
3. Vaillant writes: "What is amazing - and also terrifying about
tigers - is their facility for what can only be described as
abstract thinking. Very quickly, a tiger can assimilate new
information… ascribe it to a source, and even a motive, and react
accordingly" [p. 136]. In what ways does the tiger that kills
Markov engage in abstract thinking?
4. Does Markov deserve the fate that befalls him? Is it fair to
say that he brought on his own death by stealing the tiger''s kill
or by shooting at the tiger?
5. What kind of man is Yuri Trush? In what ways is he both
fierce and thoughtful, authoritarian and at the same time sensitive
to the desperation that makes people of the Primorye break the law?
How does his experience with the tiger change him?
6. Vaillant attributes the attitude of entitlement of Russian
homesteaders, at least in part, to biblical injunctions: "1: Be
fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2: And the fear of
you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth… 3:
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the
green herb have I given you all things" [p. 150]. What are the
consequences of this way of viewing our relationship to the earth
and other animals?
7. Chapter 18 begins with a epigraph from
Moby-Dick. What are the parallels between Trush''s
hunt for the tiger and Ahab''s pursuit of the whale and between the
behavior of the tiger and that the whale in these stories?
8. After he helps to kill the tiger, native people tell Trush
he''s now marked by it, that he now bears, as Vaillant puts it,
"some ineffable taint, discernible only to tigers" [p. 290]. When
an otherwise tame and placid tiger tries to attack him at a
wildlife rehabilitation center, Trush wonders if "some sort of a
bio field exists… Maybe tigers can feel some connection through the
cosmos, or have some common language. I don''t know. I can''t
explain it" [p. 291]. Is this merely a fanciful conjecture, or
could it be true that tigers can sense the presence of someone who
has killed one of their kind? If true, how would it change our
views of animal consciousness?
9. Vaillant suggests that, like captive tigers, most of us "live
how and where we do because, at some point in the recent past, we
were forced out of our former habitats and ways of living by more
aggressive, if not better adapted, humans. Worth asking here is:
Where does this trend ultimately lead? Is there a better way to
honor the fact that we survived?" [p. 298]. How might these
questions be answered?
10. Vaillant argues that "by mass-producing food, energy,
material goods, and ourselves, we have attempted to secede from,
and override, the natural order" [p. 304]. What are the
consequences of this desire to separate ourselves from nature?
11. What makes tigers both so frightening and so fascinating?
What mythic value do they have for humans? In what ways are they an
important part of the ecosystem?
12. What does the book as a whole suggest about our relationship
to nature, particularly to the animals that share the earth with
13. It is a precarious time, not just for the Amur tiger, but
for all tigers. Poaching and the destruction of tiger habitat pose
major challenges to the survival of the species. What would be the
significance of the loss of the tiger? What positive steps have
been taken to protect it?
14. What changes in human behavior need to happen in order to
preserve the (Amur) tiger and similar species? How likely is it
that humans will make such changes?