In the Eye of the Wild

Nastassja Martin


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The New York Review of Books, Inc
16 November 2021
ISBN: 9781681375854
128 pages

From the publisher

In the Eye of the Wild begins with an account of the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin’s near fatal run-in with a Kamchatka bear in the mountains of Siberia. Martin’s professional interest is animism; she addresses philosophical questions about the relation of humankind to nature, and in her work she seeks to partake as fully as she can in the lives of the indigenous peoples she studies. Her violent encounter with the bear, however, brings her face-to-face with something entirely beyond her ken—the untamed, the nonhuman, the animal, the wild. In the course of that encounter something in the balance of her world shifts. A change takes place that she must somehow reckon with.

Left severely mutilated, dazed with pain, Martin undergoes multiple operations in a provincial Russian hospital, while also being grilled by the secret police. Back in France, she finds herself back on the operating table, a source of new trauma. She realizes that the only thing for her to do is to return to Kamchatka. She must discover what it means to have become, as the Even people call it, medka, a person who is half human, half bear.

In the Eye of the Wild is a fascinating, mind-altering book about terror, pain, endurance, and self-transformation, comparable in its intensity of perception and originality of style to J. A. Baker’s classic The Peregrine. Here Nastassja Martin takes us to the farthest limits of human being.


In the Eye of the Wild is Martin’s haunting, genre-defying memoir of the year that followed [her attack], though in Sophie R. Lewis’s elegant translation from the French, it becomes clear that ‘memoir’ is another word that doesn’t quite fit this slender yet expansive book. . . What Martin describes in this book isn’t so much a search for meaning as an acceptance of its undoing.
—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review

Martin’s narrative, with the bones of a personal essay and the lift of a prose poem . . . hunts for beauty in what remains occluded and apart. The result is heady and obsessive, as Martin smashes again and again against the limits of what anyone can know: What is a self? What is ‘the other’? . . . . Just how precious or sacred are you, really, if a bear can suddenly rip off part of your head?
—Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

Stunning. . . With exquisite prose and sharp observations, Martin reveals how curiosity can uncover the most vivid aspects of the human condition. This is a profound look at the violence and beauty of life.
Publishers Weekly, starred review