I finally got Adeeb Khalid's The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia from ILL. I've been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, but actually what I'm really excited about is Khalid's soon-to-be-released book Islam after Communism. It has bothered me no end that there is almost nothing written about Islam in Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union. A significant number of Muslims live in this area but little is written about Islam itself and how communism changed it. And I'm especially glad Khalid is the one to write this book; he is well-equipped to write about Islam in Central Asia. Anyone who's been in both the Middle East and Central Asia can easily see that Islam is quite different in the two areas. I am hoping that this is the book I've been looking for for a long time.
28 November 2006
I'm entering books into librarything instead of reading them right now (we finally got some of our stuff out of storage). Librarything has to be one of the handiest online things I've ever seen.
And my ILL book came in. I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. The shipping was 2 dollars, so it'll be cheaper to just get the university library card. That's what I was hoping for. :)
But I probably won't make it there tomorrow since we're supposed to get some snow for the next few days. I'd rather stay home and enjoy not going anywhere. Except that I have to go to the airport.
25 November 2006
I found someone else who doesn't like Simon Winchester's books.
And if you look carefully, for example, at the reviews of Krakatoa on Amazon, half the ratings are 3 and below, and many of those who gave three stars said the writing was bad, but the topic interesting. Sorry folks, but a book isn't worth reading simply because of the topic. Maybe in spite of it, but an author can ruin a good topic. And Winchester has a knack for that.
I'm usually not this picky about authors, but Winchester picks really, really interesting topics. So I've been sorely disappointed by him more than once, and I have trouble forgiving an author for that.
23 November 2006
Almaty branch (any branch)
Cake that's not too sweet
Football (as in soccer)
One-stop shopping (at the grocery store, not WalMart)
22 November 2006
Pretty much the only place in the US that reminds me of Kyrgyzstan is the grocery store. And that's a stretch since grocery stores here are entirely different creatures. But my life in Bishkek was so different from my life here. I didn't drive there, there's nothing like marshrutkas here, there's no baby house here, the sidewalks are different, I didn't go to the library there, the buildings are different, my husband isn't teaching, and the people are so different. There's nothing that's even remotely similar here except for the grocery store.
So except on the days I go to the grocery store, I can manage to not miss Kyrgyzstan too much.
21 November 2006
20 November 2006
This book isn't meant to be everything on the Roma. It's not at all scholarly (although, as with many books like this, I wish the she had put in at least a few footnotes) and Fonseca never makes herself out to be an expert on Roma, but she writes about them with compassion and makes an interesting tale.
Next, I'd like to track down Ian Hancock's (an American Rom) We Are the Romani People. Or Jan Yoors' Gypsies, or Gypsies: The Hidden Americans by Anne Sutherland. I'll see what ILL can come up with since there is very little in the libraries I can use. Or maybe I'll finally decide to fork out the $50 annual fee to use the local university library. It has all sorts of great books.
18 November 2006
There was an interesting show on PBS' Wild Things a few nights ago about Przewalski's horse. These are the only remaining wild horses in the world, and they nearly became extinct in the last century. They are the steppe horses of Mongolia, western China, and eastern Kazakhstan. The show was about attempts to reintroduce these horses to their native habitat from which they became extinct 30-40 years ago.
The horse is named after Nikolai Przewalski, a famous Russian explorer in Central Asia who "discovered" the horse. I had to snicker when the narrator said that, since the people living in Central Asia had noticed they were there long before. Przewalski died in what is now Kyrgyzstan because he drank the water and is buried near Issyk Kul. Karakol was named after him (small wonder they changed the name) during (some of) the Soviet years. As I recall, Ella Maillart writes about these horses in Turkestan Solo, but I can't remember what the local name was for them- it's takhi in Mongolian.
Mostly I was just pleased to see something about Central Asia on PBS. They showed a Kazakh family, which was interesting since the Kazakhs in China are the only nomadic Kazakhs left. China hasn't been anywhere near as forceful in settling nomads or requiring Chinese as the Soviets did with Russian. Of course, it's all relative. China has been plenty forceful in other areas.
17 November 2006
This is from Kate's Book Blog. I almost didn't do it since my answers are pretty vague, but I didn't have anything amazing to write today.
1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?
If anyone taught me, it was my mother. I don't remember learning how to read. Well, I do remember my mother having me practice blending consonants. Seems like that was when I was 5? Maybe? But reading is just what I do.
2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?
Books have always been my favorite gift and I'd get lots every birthday and Christmas. But the first one that was my own? No idea.
3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?
I don't know on this one either. It was probably at one of those book fairs they had in elementary school. But I didn't check books out from the library much or buy my own because my mother kept me very well supplied with books. I still have most of those books and it's been fun to share them with my own children.
4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?
I've always been partial to E.L. Konigsburg. I had a friend in elementary school who gave me From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and I read that a zillion times. I still have it too (it hasn't fallen apart, because my mother gave me the same book that year, so there were two books to read). I really liked Joan Blos too and Elizabeth George Speare. And the Pushcart War. And Caddie Woodlawn.
5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?
My mother started buying me what would be called adult books when I was a young teenager probably. There was a woman who worked at the local bookstore who would recommend books for me. I remember reading The Lacemaker and Kristen Lavransdatter pretty early on. And Spring Moon. Oh, and A Town Like Alice and Tisha and The Scarlet Pimpernel. And Chaim Potok.
6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?
Many, many books. I'd never read the Betsy-Tacy books; or Anne of Green Gables; or Little House on the Prairie; or much of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (or the rest of the series); or Madeline L'Engle. I also really like Felice Holman now.
I've started crocheting dresses again. A good clue to this is the number of books I read in a week. If it's about one a week, I'm not crocheting. If it's more than that, I probably am. I used to not be able to watch TV without working on something, but now I can't even read without it. But it's always nice to realize I've crocheted a lot of a skirt without even realizing it. And I've read a lot of interesting books recently.
16 November 2006
I don't think I've written about The Silk Road recently. It's a pricey item, but I've found it at lots of libraries. It's been fun to watch it again since being in Central Asia. It is pretty dated since traveling through China is a lot more open now (it was filmed in 1979), and, of course, since the first 12 parts were filmed in China and subject to Chinese oversight, I don't agree with all the interpretations.
There are 30 50-minute segments (I've only seen the first 12) that go from Xi'an to Rome. I'd love to see the rest someday if I could ever find them. They are really dry in places, and it helps if you already have some background in the geography of the Silk Road, but still, checking out one or two segments can't hurt.
Still, as Silk Road Seattle points out, this should be cut down to three hours and given a better script to make a really excellent film.
14 November 2006
I finally read all of Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women . I've tried to read it before, but this time I decided that I'd get past the first few chapters.
It's a good book in many ways. Brooks is well-travelled in the Middle East and has talked to many women in a variety of circumstances. She is accurate and tells her stories fairly. But I don't think she is as balanced or unbiased as she could have been.
While she does present a variety of stories throughout the book, I felt that she was specifically looking for negative examples even though she writes, "Once I began working on this book, I looked everywhere for examples of women trying to reclaim Islam's positive messages, trying to carry forward into the twentieth century the reformist zeal with which Muhammad had remade the lives of many women...It turned out to be a frustrating search." I felt like she was looking for the wrong thing- for women who were fighting for things that were important to Brooks, instead of looking for women who were fighting for changes that were important to them. There are many women working to reclaim Islam, but we in the West don't see it because we'd do it differently. It's difficult to imagine that there are women who are choosing this life- they clearly aren't thinking correctly.
Brooks also writes about a very limited number of Muslim women. There is hardly a word about Turkic or Southeastern Asian or Indian Muslims; Arab and Perisan Muslims are presented as being representative of the Muslim world. While Arab and Persian Muslims are unquestionably the most familiar in the West, they aren't even close to being a majority of Muslims.
It's also important to note that Saudi Arabia is even farther from being representative of Islam than the Middle East as a whole. Saudi Arabia's Islam is extreme and, despite all the money the Saudi government has poured into its proselytizing efforts, Wahabbism is not spreading. Too many Muslims see it for what it is- a repressive and backward interpretation of Islam. Brooks does acknowledge that Saudi-style Islam isn't likely to catch on in Egypt, but I think it's misleading to have several chapters about Saudi Arabia when it is such a small part of the Islamic world. There were no chapters about secular governments in Muslim countries.
Brooks also claims that the Qur'an mandates the death penalty for apostasy. The Qur'an itself does no such thing; that tradition comes from the hadith and is subject to interpretation. The Qur'an also does not specially allow for wife-beating. Again, the interpretation matters a great deal and Muhammad, who is the example many Muslims chose to follow, clearly taught that women should be treated with respect. The Bible was and still is sometimes interpreted as a document that is repressive to women, but Christian women have fought against those interpretations and made a lot of changes.
I did like Brooks' suggestions at the end of the book of making sure laws against female circumcision are passed in your own country (they have been passed in the US since the writing of this book) and for granting refugee status to women who fear for their health, freedom, or lives because of these cultural traditions.
But in the end, complaining about the practices like these is not useful, and can be counterproductive. Do you remember that silly petition going around the internet in the years before the Taliban was overthrown where you were supposed to protest to the government in Afghanistan about its treatment of women? I couldn't believe that people actually were signing the thing and thinking that the Taliban was interested in their opinion. When we spend our time criticizing cultural practices within Islam, many Muslims feel attacked. Why don't we spend our resources helping these Muslim women and men change things from within instead of shouting from the sidelines? Negative traditions that have been changed within Christian societies did not change because Muslims were telling Christians they were wrong.
We in the West are not the ones who need to be educated about this. It's women in Africa who need to be taught about the devastating physical consequences of circumcision so they don't allow their daughters to be circumcised, and so they teach their sons to not require it of their wives. Women in Saudi Arabia need to learn about moderate forms of Islam (and 95% of Muslims are more moderate). Education of women is the key here. And while it's not possible for anyone to go into Saudi and start up a system of liberal Muslim schools for girls, ideas can be changed in many countries. We always hear about the extreme examples and we feel that nothing can be done. But something can be done, and it's through education. And by simply being encouraging.
We've been watching the old Silk Road videos again and the boys were surprisingly interested in the section on Dunhuang. When we were in China we decided not to go to Dunhuang because we thought the boys wouldn't be interested enough to make the trip worth it. Now I wish we had. Going there would have been even better than watching the film.
But, in a happy coincidence, while searching for star myths from Central Asia, I came across this star chart from a manuscript from Dunhuang. It's around 1300 years old and is one of the earliest known complete star charts. The manuscript is 210 by 25 cm and shows 1,345 stars. Very cool.
12 November 2006
I've just finished Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell. Bissell is a former Peace Corps volunteer who went to Uzbekistan, quit after 7 months (PCVs are usually assigned for two years), and then returned several years later to write a book. The book is supposed to be about the Aral Sea, but it's more a travel book about eastern Uzbekistan.
This is undoubtedly one of the better Central Asia travel books I've ever read, but it still had its faults. Bissell spends a little too much time analyzing things, and he focuses on Europeans in Central Asia (I didn't need to read about Connelly and Stoddard again, nor did I just want to hear about PCVs and aid workers), and he writes about the more familiar places. He did overuse f--- and its variants. I almost never heard or read that word while I was in Kyrgyzstan, but maybe it's fallen out of favor in the last few years. But to me, it was too much and didn't seem realistic. The ending chapter or two in Karakalpakstan was great though and I wish more had been written about his stay there.
So, if you've never read anything about Central Asia, this is a reasonably good choice to start with. Bissell doesn't spend too much time talking about the food or the logistics of travelling (so many travel authors fall into that), and you'll get some history in the mix (although I'd have appreciated some sources).
11 November 2006
09 November 2006
I've not written about the elections on Tuesday. Not because I don't care or because I'm depressed (neither are true), but because I've been far more concerned about what happens in Kyrgyzstan than what happens here. Because we have a solid system of government, it matters relatively little who is running things in this country. Not so in many other places.
So while I'm glad to see that there was a clear message that a new direction is needed in this country, I'm pretty skeptical that the Democrats are going to do much besides flounder also. But I just can't complain, because there isn't the remotest possibilty of civil war right now, or a revolution, or anything along those lines.
It's good to be an American. Sometimes people wonder why our family has chosen to live in places where people's rights aren't protected. And yes, we are somewhat restricted in some places. But the blessing is not just living in a free country, it's being a citizen of one. And no matter where I go, I'm still an American.
First of all I want to say how impressed I've been with KyrgyzReport the last week. While I don't know who's running the blog, I've met "young Kyrgyz guys" like them who want to see real reform in Kyrgyzstan and I'm glad this group has come up with a way to spread their ideas. And I'm glad the Kyrgyz government is open enough to allow blogs like this.
More details are coming out about the new constitution (summary in English here). AKIpress has an interview with Gulnara Iskakova (my husband met her when he were organizing some constitutional debates at the law school in Bishkek- FWIW, there are several law schools in Kyrgyzstan; the largest is the Law Academy, but some of the others have higher reputations) who teaches at the AUCA and is a respected constitutional scholar in Kyrgyzstan.
They also interviewed Nurlan Sadykov (in Russian here, English summary here) who talks about the good and bad about the constitution, although he very rightly points out that implementation is the most important question right now.
Some are concerned that the judiciary wasn't changed at all, but I'm not really surprised. While there are people who see a need for judicial reform, it's not very high on most people's lists, although KyrgyzReport writes about the need for judicial reform. We in the West have so many ways to address the government that we're not just left with organizing mass demonstrations in the capital for days on end to get our voices heard. The election on Tuesday is an excellent example.
I'm very glad to see these interviews out there about the constitution, and from people in Kyrgyzstan instead of constitutional experts from the west.
Word is that Bakiev has agreed to a new constitution, and has signed off on allowing parliament to make the necessary changes.
Stick to it Bakiev. It's not worth dragging the country down into another revolution to keep your disproportionate power.
Will the opposition be satisfied with this? Bakiev certainly has bought himself some time, but he has to realize that there are a lot of people in Kyrgyzstan who want some real reform (peacefully) and they expect the president to do something.
Parliament appointing the PM and the cabinet could be very interesting. There has been a lot of controversy over cabinet appointments and lots of people have gone in and out. But until I see some real changes, I expect we'll continue with business as usual.
07 November 2006
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick was pretty good. I thought the title was off (although the subtitle wasn't) because it really doesn't have much to do with the Mayflower. Instead, it's a history of Native American-English settler relations from the English's first permanent arrival in New England in 1620 to King Philip's War in the mid-1670s.
I thought the book was best at the beginning and then got more boring, but that's largely because I'm not very interested in military history. There were too many details in the war chapter of who fought whom when and where. I was pleased to see a fair piece written about Mary Rowlandson (her autobiography has been on my to-read list for too long) in the war chapter so I could read about her while I was skimming through the battles and troop movements.
This is still an important book though despite my misgivings. There is little written about the dealings between these two groups of people, and it's important to see what worked and what didn't. Philbrick applies these lessons to today, and I agree with many of his conclusions.
06 November 2006
The fourth day of protests in Bishkek has ended. This is definitely far more organized than the demonstrations earlier this year. Registan has a lot of links to lots of places where you can go for more information, especially from people in Kyrgyzstan.
One thing I haven't been able to figure out is whether the protests are limited to Bishkek or are in other parts of the country. Is the South supporting this?
Apparently there are discussions going on right now (it's the middle of the night in Bishkek) about constitutional reform. Bakiev has totally dropped the ball on this matter and it may well be too late for him to save it. We'll see what happens in the next few hours, if anything. And if it's nothing, Bakiev may not have a very easy time the next few days.
One wonders why Kulov is sticking with Bakiev.
This link is a webcam in the center of Bishkek. Keep in mind that Kyrgyzstan is 11 hours ahead of Washington.
Added later- It's October Revolution Day on the 7th. It's a pretty major holiday and lots of places will be closed. The Parliament, although not a majority, accepted a new version of the Constitution overnight. I can't find any details of exactly which version it is (there are many floating around), but this could possibly help settle things down. I very much hope that Kyrgyzstan can get through this peacefully and get a better system of government in place. I'm just not sure if Bakiev will let both of those things happen.
The Age of Homespun: Objects and stories in the Creation of an American Myth by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has to be one of the most interesting books about early American history that I have ever read. I like it even more than A Midwife's Tale.
Ulrich takes everyday items like niddy-noddies, bed rugs, and chests to create a fascinating look at early American life. She writes about the transformation of weaving from a man's task to a women's; she talks a great deal about the Native American influence on the area even though we tend to think the Native Americans had disappeared from New England by the 1700s. A good example of what's here can be seen here at Harvard Magazine where most of the information from the chapter about this woodsplint basket can be found.
My favorite chapter was probably "Hannah Barnard's Cupboard." Ulrich writes about women's families and how their "movables," transportable items, as opposed to land, trace women's families. Probate records tell what people owned when they died and what fathers willed to their children, but documenting the history of individual items more often tells the story of women. To conclude the chapter, Ulrich writes:
Hannah Barnard left no written record to explain the meaning she attached to her cupboard. Over time, however, it became her memorial and a link between generations of women who bore her name. Hannah's cupboard helps us see that the nineteenth-century Americans who attached label to old shoes,spinning wheels, sheets, towels, tablecloths, and cupboards were not only memorializing their families. They were creating them.
Obviously I was particularly interested in this book because I like to spin myself, but this book is much more than a history of early American textiles. If you're not interested in textiles, it's easy to gloss over the technical details of spinning, weaving and dyeing. Instead, read this book to see Ulrich's brilliance in taking everyday objects and telling one corner of the history of New England.
05 November 2006
2 cups rice
2 large tomatoes
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic
3 T oil
3 c chicken broth
2 tsp salt
Corn from one ear
Grill the tomatoes and onion over high heat till blackened all over, blend. Add water if needed to get two cups of puree. Set aside. Heat the oil in a medium pot over high heat, then lower to medium high and cook the rice in the oil till golden. In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. When the rice is golden, add the puree and stir, then add the hot broth and stir. Let boil 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice, then add the salt and corn. Cover and lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. This is from Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.
04 November 2006
I'd post, but I'm spending my time reading one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. And that's saying something. I'll have a review up tomorrow or Sunday.
02 November 2006
It appears the demonstrations went smoothly today. As usual, the estimates of the number in attendance has a 10,000+ range. Yulia at neweurasia Kyrgyzstan and RFE/RL both have stories up; there will be more later.
KyrgyzReport has lots of photos and updates through the day.
Demonstrations are scheduled to start in Bishkek in a few hours. While I expect this to be a lot more like the demonstrations this past spring than the spring of 2005, it's hard to imagine that Bakiev can expect to keep a handle on things forever.
01 November 2006
I finally had a chance to read Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman and I very much enjoyed it. Bushman is a believing Mormon, as he makes clear in the introduction, and that clearly comes through. While some might think Bushman glosses over some negative aspects of Joseph's life, others think he dredged up every negative story and ignored the faith-promoting. Personally, I thought he was a little closer to the first than the second, but he did deal effectively with most of Joseph's less-than-positive characteristics. I particularly appreciated that Bushman placed Joseph in his own historical and cultural setting instead of holding him to the different standards we have today.
I'd recommend this book to people who are interested in learning more about the LDS Church than a basic overview. Bushman discusses many points of Mormon doctrine that are a little harder to explain and I'd imagine most people would come away understanding the church better after reading this book. And, since I'm a Mormon, I hope they'd understand Joseph Smith a little better too. As Bushman points out several times, it has been hard for many people to get beyond the vilification of Joseph Smith and see the man who said he was a prophet.