Travel east by train from Moscow and the clip of iron on track beats out the rhythm of your approach toward the Ural Mountains. This band of hills separates western Russia from Siberia, rising in Kazakhstan and following an almost direct line up through Russia to the Arctic Ocean.

There is no dramatic curtain-raiser to the edge of Siberia, no meaningful brink to a specific place—just thick weather hanging over an abstract idea. “The region has the virtue of not startling or astonishing you right away but of pulling you in slowly and reluctantly, as it were, with measured carefulness, and then binding you tightly once you are in,” wrote the popular Siberian-born author Valentin Rasputin.