31 December 2007

I may not get around to posting every day, but I am thoroughly enjoying all the reading I can do right now as a breastfeeding mother. I honestly can't think of anything more pleasant than having to curl up with a book and my baby 10 times a day (well, I guess I skip the book at 4 in the morning). It makes it all worth it for me.

I did read an article once that said that nursing mothers shouldn't be reading and such while feeding their babies; instead, they should pay attention to the baby. Lovely idea, but it gives me a seriously sore neck to look down at my baby while he's eating. I'll pay attention to him when he's in a better position.

It will be nice in a few more weeks when we're ready to take on the world again. But for now, it's nice to just do the basics. And babies have a way of making you remember the basics.

Dreams from My Father

My husband got this book for me for Christmas. This is Barack Obama's first book, published 12 years ago before he was elected to any political office. It's basically a memoir of being raised by white parents and grandparents, but also the influence of his Kenyan family and also the years he spent as an organizer in Chicago. There really are three separate parts to the book and in the end they all tie together.

Hillary might not have been impressed with his international experience consisting mostly of a few years as a child in Indonesia, but I'm a lot more interested in a president who obviously has had a wider variety of influences than your typical white born-in-America candidate. And so I particularly enjoyed reading about Obama's years in Indonesia and also his family in Kenya. Obama writes very little about his mother, something he says he regrets in introduction to the new edition.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book and will see if I can check out The Audacity of Hope from the library. Both my husband and I are very interested in a candidate that will clearly send a message to the rest of the world that America has elected someone different. I am interested to see who will come out ahead in the primaries over the next 5 weeks.

Serving Crazy with Curry

I don't know why I didn't just wait a couple of days to read this book for Melissa's challenge, but I didn't. This book is Amulya Malladi and is set in California. The Veturi family from India has lived in the US for 30 years and has two grown daughters. The book is basically the story of those two daughters (and also their parents and grandmother) working through some hard times. It has some difficult parts, but it's overall an uplifting sort of book- like one of the reviewers writes, it's life-affirming. And if you're interested in Indian cooking, this is the book for you.

Which Witch

This is another unique book by Eva Ibbotson and I rather enjoyed this one too. As usual, Ibbotson is quite creative and even though the book has some rather dark parts (particularly the Symphony of Death; I skipped that part, thank you) it's a cheerful and lighthearted little book.


I stumbled on this film at the library a few days ago. It's a very simple story set in Kyrgyzstan, mostly shot in Bar-Boulak. It's quite short with little talking, and it's mostly black and white with a few shots or scenes in color. I particularly liked how it showed a lot of details of traditional Kyrgyz life from birth to death.

24 December 2007

Goodness, I didn't expect to disappear for so long. The baby is still happy, but we had a little trouble on the healthy part this week and I didn't even have time to read most days, much less do anything else. He's doing better now and is probably going to be totally fine, so there's nothing to worry about. And there never was a huge concern, but I'm not exactly at my mental best after giving birth. I never want to go through a week like that again, except for the holding the baby part.

And I didn't have a lot of library books that I wanted to read. I have a huge stack of fiction, but I am recalling that contemporary fiction is not my thing when I have little children. So I found my copy of Islam after Communism and am happily reading that. We'll see what happens with Melissa's reading challenge as a result. Of course, there doesn't seem to be anything banning non-fiction in the rules.

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

I think this is the last book on my list by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (see here, here, and here for her other books) and it probably has the broadest appeal. There's a lot in it that's the same as what was covered in several of her other books, especially Prehistoric Textiles, but on a more general level and with the goal of learning more specifically about the lives of women in ancient times. The focus is on textiles, which have almost always been produced by women because their production is possible while caring for children. (I discovered this after our first son was born when textile arts like quilting, crocheting, and spinning became the most practical way for me to keep my sanity.)

Barber uses archaeological and linguistic evidence to detail a variety of aspects of women's work in ancient times. The types of materials they used, where they got them and how they benefited from them, and why they created what they did are all discussed. Objects like loom weights appearing in new areas show women's (not just men's) migrations. Barber interprets some myths using archaeological and textile information. If you're just going to read one of her books, this is the one to read. Her final paragraph sums up the goal of the book:
We women do not need to conjure a history for ourselves. Facts about women, their work, and their place in society in early times have survived in considerable quantity, if we know how to look for them. Far from being dull and in need of fanciful paint to make it more interesting, this truth is sometimes (as the saying goes) stranger than fiction, a fascinating tale in itself.

18 December 2007

We Have a New Baby!

Our third son was born last Thursday afternoon. He is happy and healthy and about the most loved baby ever born.

We have waited for a very long time for this little boy to join our family and we are so happy he's here safely.

Watching TV during labor was nice. When the contractions were bad enough to keep my mind off my book (reviewed in the next post, and you should read it) I told my husband I wanted to watch football and he found a thing about the 2001 college season and then the Democrat debate. Good thing for sports and politics. :)

No pictures or name (for a boy who didn't have a name for a while, he ended up with a lot of names and I love them all) here, but for those of you who are interested, you can email me or leave a comment and I'll send you those details.

17 December 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I finished this one in the hospital last week, and it was lovely to have a good book to read while I was in labor.

The book is set in what is now Jiangyong County in Hunan, China, in the 19th century among the Yao. What makes it so excellent is that it accurately portrays the lives of women at the time, regular women. Lily, the narrator, and Snow Flower fit their times. I don't know why it is so rare for authors to write about women in this way, especially if the book is set earlier than the 20th century, but since it is, books like this are a real find.

But because of this, the book is quite difficult in some parts. The description of foot binding was certainly the most detailed and graphic I've ever read. Awful things happen to these women that they can't control, but when Lily responds in the conventional way, as would be expected, it contributes to Snow Flower's destruction.

There are so many fascinating topics in this book- the treatment of women, education (the whole idea of nu shu is amazing), conventionality, social class, and more. I would love to read this with a group of women and discuss it.

I didn't think the title quite captured what the book was really about, but it is a catchy title. I also wished it was clearer that the book was about the Yao. It was mentioned fairly often that the characters were Yao, I would hope that readers would be interested enough to learn more about the Yao and nu shu and its use among some of the Yao.

But these are very minor complaints about an excellent book.

12 December 2007

It seems like I missed reviewing a book or two in the last few weeks, but I'm not going to try to sort that out today. I did poke through Frances Wood's Did Marco Polo Go to China? which I rather liked, although it hardly matters whether he did or not at this point.

There are lots of historical records like that though, like whether 123 British prisoners really die in the Black Hole of Calcutta. It doesn't matter anymore if they did; what matters is that enough people in Britain believed that they did and it contributed to changing the course of Indian history. And it doesn't matter if Marco Polo actually went to China because enough people believed he did. (George Bush and company used this tactic nicely in 2003, didn't they?)

Anyway. Check out the link on the sidebar about grayness and dreams.

11 December 2007

The Secret of Platform 13

This was another great little book by Eva Ibbotson. This one is a children's fantasy set in London, and magical places that can only be reached from London. It feels very British- Americans just don't tell fairy tales in the same way. Recommended.

The Star of Kazan

I rather liked this book by Eva Ibbotson. I probably mostly picked it up for the title, but even though it had nothing to do with Kazan, it was a worthwhile story. It's children's historical fiction set in early 20th-century Vienna. Recommended.


I had a nasty sore throat (complete with inflammation and white spots) last week that, as usual, wasn't strep throat so the doctor couldn't do anything about it. When my throat gets inflamed, ibuprofen is the only thing that helps with the inflammation (except suffering with it for about a week; throat lozenges don't touch inflammation), but my doctor didn't want me to take that (she didn't have any other suggestions though) since I'm pregnant. So I had to figure out something else.

And for the first time ever, something besides ibuprofen helped. I'd read before and again early last week that honey is good for coughs and the throat. So I tried swallowing a spoonful of honey when my throat was keeping me awake at night. I was able to get to sleep and in the morning the inflammation was gone.

Don't think this is a particularly pleasant solution. Swallowing a spoonful of honey is worse than swallowing two ibuprofen. And just putting the honey in hot water didn't seem to be enough. But it's always on hand and you can take it when you need it. Of course, it might have just been a coincidence, but I'm grateful for anything that lets me sleep right now.

04 December 2007

I guess that cold, gray weather reminds me of China and makes me want to go back. It happened last winter and I just figured it was because I naturally wanted to go back, but the last few days of real winter weather have brought China back to mind, especially Xi'an.

01 December 2007

Anahita's Woven Riddle

Melissa reviewed this book about a month ago and I was very intrigued. It's set in Iran in about 1875 among the Afshar tribe who are famous for their carpets.

It's wonderful to see a book set in this time and place. There is so little written in English about this part of the world, and most is non-fiction from a Russian or British perspective. Sayres has clearly done a lot of research and it's nice to have a weaver writing about weaving (although tapestry weaving is a lot different from creating a knotted-pile carpet, as Anahita does in the book).

The story is pretty good too. Like Melissa, I appreciated that there were 3 reasonable suitors and the story wasn't completely obvious in pointing toward the one she would marry. And it was nice to see Anahita learn a little about herself as time went on, because she about drove me nuts at the beginning of the book.

Two complaints (of course): First, because of all the reform movements mentioned in the book, it felt much more like it was set in the early1900s instead of 20-30 years earlier. But this is hardly something most people would care about.

But I was very surprised and disappointed that Sayres has the Afshar speaking Persian, especially at home with their own families. The Afshar are Turkic and speak a language very closely related to southern Azeri. Persian and Afshar are totally unrelated, although Afshar has borrowed a number of Farsi words. Of course it would be expected that some Afshar at the time would speak Farsi since they live in Iran, but not at home as the characters in the book do. (spoiler) In fact, given the answer to the last riddle of the book, the Yomut and Afshar share Turkic languages, not Persian dialects. It would not have been difficult or any more confusing to have clarified this in the book, especially when Sayres is so careful to portray Iranian life well.

30 November 2007

Rosetta Stone

After dithering about getting some sort of Persian or Tajik language program for more than a year we finally decided to try Rosetta Stone. There really aren't a lot of Persian language programs out there that fit all our needs and Rosetta Stone isn't perfect, but we'll give it a try.

The main advantage to RS is that the entire family can use it. The biggest disadvantage for me is that there isn't a text, but we'll order a Tajik one and the homeschooling version of RS comes with more written resources.

I've been wanting to try Rosetta Stone for a while now. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Click on "Rosetta Stone" at the bottom of this post for other posts about RS Farsi.

29 November 2007

A Limit of Blogging Friendship

I've written before over the last few years how much I enjoy blogging friendships, especially since we move so often. I started blogging 3 years and 4 cities ago and I've stayed in much closer contact with people I've gotten to know on the internet than with the people I knew in the last few places we've lived, except Bishkek. Our nomadic lifestyle lends itself well to internet friendships.

But every so often I wish, just a little, that I had more real life friends, or that internet friends could be more like real life friends. Like when someone I know online is having a particularly difficult trial. It's just not the same to send an email and say you're sorry. I don't know anyone's real address to send something. I don't really feel like a worthwhile friend.

I have met a woman in our new neighborhood who isn't disapproving of our choices or even just pleasantly tolerant of our lifestyle like most people are. It's delightful to talk to her because we talk about things besides our children and other typical mothers-with-younger-than-teenage-children talk. She doesn't quiz me about homeschooling, and her reaction to hearing that we'd lived in Kyrgyzstan was totally different than most people's. I won't push this friendship too much though, because, well, we'll probably move in the summer and this person is quite outgoing and isn't in much need of another friend anyway.

It just makes me think of how it could be if we put down roots somewhere. But in the end, that's not what I want. Because I think the goals we have are a lot nicer, even if they don't sound so friendly.

28 November 2007

No Doom and Gloom Here

In case you're tired of all the doom and gloom you're always hearing about, check out this Foreign Policy article. This calls for a longer post, but not today. Thanks to Global Gal for pointing it out.

The sort of snow that sticks is falling outside. I especially love it when it snows the night before a day that we don't have to go anywhere. When you can stay home and look out at the snow and play in it and not have to get anywhere in it.

27 November 2007

Oprah Keeps Stealing My Books

Just this week I found out that Oprah's current book club book is the very same book my husband's uncle recommended to me recently. No wonder there are so many holds on the book at the library. But how often does your spouse's uncle recommend a book? (I ended up skimming the book since I wasn't will to commit to all 1,000 pages, especially fiction, so I won't do a review here.)

The same thing happened with Anna Karenina. I did not read that book because Oprah said I should. But it looked like I did because of the timing.

I don't have anything against Oprah's book club; in fact, I think it is wonderful. Anyone who promotes books like she does is doing a good thing. But I just don't care to look like I need her suggestions. :)
I wasn't really all that busy over most of the weekend, but I'm still a lazy blogger.

I was looking back over the last few years to see what I'd written other Thanksgivings and found this post with a long list of things I'm thankful for. I'm still thankful for all those things, but this year the list is much shorter- only one thing, and that's to have my husband back to normal after almost two years of nerve and back pain.

I'm thankful for the baby too, but a little nervous too (we've been a family of 4 for almost 3/4ths of our marriage; it will be very different to change that). But there is nothing but joy in having my husband back. I'd forgotten what normal could be like.

I'm sure things will be fine with the baby and soon it will seem odd that we only had 2 children for 7 years, but going to 3 seems odd from this end. And the gap is so huge. Someone referred to this baby as a caboose baby recently. I suppose he is. One of the books I read recently said that every child in the family has a different mother (When All the World Was Young, maybe? it was one of the memoirs) and I imagine that will really be true for this little boy.

He's still nameless. The name we both like just doesn't work in the US though, especially in the state we're living in right now.

21 November 2007

News from Tartary

News from Tartary by Peter Fleming is the rest of the story of Ella Maillart's Forbidden Journey. Fleming travelled the entire distance with Maillart and wrote his own version of their trip. Both books are excellent, especially since Maillart and Fleming write about different things, but clearly travel well together.

Sadly, the edition I read doesn't have any of the photos Fleming mentions; it doesn't even have a map so unless you're pretty familiar with the path they travelled, you're either going to have find your own map or just wander along with Maillart and Fleming. Or find an older edition because it was rather silly to cut out the pictures.

North and South

This is another of those film versions of a 19-century novel, but North and South is also surprisingly good, partly because the point of the story is not completely focused on the two main characters but has a life of its own beyond them.

I really very much enjoyed this movie (although as they say in the commentary, there really are too many sudden deaths). The actors were excellent and I liked Mr. Thornton a lot more than I like Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries. My husband still likes Wives and Daughters best though.

15 November 2007

The Homeschooling Post for the Year

Every year at about this time I think about how much I love homeschooling and how well it works for us. I think the only thing I don't like about it is having people ask me about it all the time. This particular neighborhood we've moved to seems particularly curious about it, more than just the typical questions from mothers with preschoolers that I usually get.

I also don't like to have people assume that I am either crazy or brilliant or a perfect mother because I homeschool. It's refreshing to talk to someone who just thinks it's something some people do. I'm not trying to make a point about how your children are schooled. Nor do I quiz you about your children's education. And no, it really isn't hard to teach second and third grade math or science or history or grammar. I bet you could do it too. You went to third grade, didn't you?

A rather typical day for us is to eat breakfast and get started on school around 9 or 10. We do math, reading, grammar, Latin, piano, scriptures, and writing daily and rotate through geography, history, science, library, and an acting class. My husband often does art and music with the boys since that's what he loves. And it's likely we'll add Persian soon. We're nearly always done before lunch, with plenty of time for more reading in the afternoon, either individually, or reading out loud, or audiobooks. I'm still a bit confused by families with elementary-aged children who take all day to get through their work.

We've been using Miquon and Singapore for math for several years now and it's gone well. I like the combination of the two programs even though I don't try to coordinate them like some homeschoolers do. We just do a page out of each every day, or two pages out of one or the other since older son like Miquon best. This will be his last year for Miquon though. I like Singapore's traditional approach to learning math mixed with Miquon's more intuitive approach, and I like Singapore's multiculturalness, especially since it just is multicultural instead of trying to be.

Story of the World is still going well, although I look forward to a few years from now when we can start the cycle over again with different sources. SOTW works well for young elementary children, but it's far from comprehensive and I have to admit that I cringe just a little when I hear of older homeschoolers using it. You'd never know a thing about Central Asia if that's all you used. :)

I dithered around on a Latin program fort months earlier this year before settling on Minimus. It has been wonderful, so much so that older son (who is not exactly what you'd call a scholarly type) told the dentist this week that Latin is his favorite subject. Minimus isn't a rigorous program and I wouldn't have chosen it if I didn't already have some knowledge of Latin (the teacher's manual is pretty expensive and the book itself isn't very self-explanatory). Since I prefer to teach my children one entire conjugation or declension at a time, I've also added that in since Minimus doesn't present the verbs in a very orderly manner. It has been perfect for us and I am so glad that older son is enjoying Latin. I'm not sure how far we'll go with Latin since I am very interested in my children learning Central Asian languages, but for now, it's an excellent introduction to language learning.

Growing with Grammar has also been excellent in every way. It is clear and comprehensive and age-appropriate and simple. It's been especially nice to start a more formal grammar program and Latin at the same time because they go together so nicely.

Maybe I'll just refer people to this post when they ask me about homeschooling.

Dream of the Red Chamber

I finished this book several days ago but haven't had time to post since we've been getting our computer back online. It was written by Tsao Hsueh-Chin and my version was translated by Wang Chi-Cheng.

And I didn't much like it, even though it's considered one of the greatest works of Chinese fiction. It wasn't completed in the author's lifetime (it was written in the mid 1700s); various others have filled in the gaps and added to the story so it's hard to know exactly what the author intended. My translation was only 40 chapters, half as long as the original book's 80 chapters.

I think I would have liked it more if I knew more about traditional Chinese society. I am rather ignorant in that area and don't really have a desire to learn more. It was interesting though to get a glimpse of life at that time though. There are many, many characters in the book, mostly female, and it's hard to keep track of all of them.

Maybe I would have liked another translation better, or maybe I'm just not the right person to read this book.

Carrot Salad Again

I decided to try to make the carrot salad that I loved in Kyrgyzstan. This time I was a bit smarter and searched for Korean carrot salad and came up with several Russian versions. I bought the matchstick carrots so I didn't have to cut up the carrots myself. And get bored and end up grating them which really doesn't work.

So I used the ideas I found online and came up with something that tastes just right. All amounts can be adjusted as you please.

1/2 lb matchstick carrots
1/8-1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1-3 T vinegar
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/2-1 tsp ground coriander

Mix it all up and adjust the seasonings as desired. Let it sit it in the fridge for at least a few hours; overnight is better. Take it out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving.

10 November 2007

I Didn't Finish a Book Today

So I have to think of something else to write about.

I could write about what we're going to name this baby. The other two boys had names long before this and it's annoying to not have something to call this one. He has had a middle name for months, but it's not a name you'd generally call a person. I'd like a name that doesn't sound outlandish in the US, but that works in Central Asia.

I could write about the book I'm reading that's going slowly because it was written in Chinese. I always have trouble keeping track of the characters in Chinese books because they are referred to in so many different ways. Even if there is a handy chart at the beginning of the book, it doesn't always solve the problem.

I could write about vouchers, but that argument is old, especially since it was soundly defeated in Utah this week. But that's old news. It's a bit newer that Mitt Romney thinks homeschoolers should get a tax credit.

I hope it snows this weekend.

08 November 2007

The Lost

I've had this book on my list to read since it came out a year ago and I wish now I'd read it sooner. This is an excellent book about the author Daniel Mendelsohn's search for the fate of his relatives who died in the Holocaust. Of course, it's not a very cheerful book because books about the Holocaust never are, but the awful things he learns aren't the point of the book at all.

I particularly enjoyed the book because I'm interested in family history myself. Not just the dates and places, but the stories behind the people. Mendelsohn starts his quest to find out how his relatives died, but as he writes several times in the book, the goal in the end is to find out how they lived. And shouldn't that be the real point of family history?

Yes, it does get rambly at times and 500 pages really is rather too long for this story. I didn't read absolutely every word on every page. The attention to detail was amazing (actually telling us the notes he was taking of conversations we were reading in their entirety?). And my goodness, Mendelsohn actually uses more parentheses than I do. If I had felt like I had to read everything, I wouldn't have made it through the book. But I didn't (I probably skipped about 50-75 pages all together) so I very much enjoyed the book.

Highly recommended.

07 November 2007

The Painted Drum

This is the first book I've read by Louise Erdrich; I also have her Birchbark House on my list. Erdrich is of Native American descent and writes about Native Americans. I particularly liked that even though some tragic things happen in this book, it's still optimistic.

I really liked parts of this book and didn't much care for other parts of it. The trouble was that I didn't care at all about Faye's relationship with Krahe, but it dominated a lot of the first 100 pages of the book. But I kept reading and once I got to the second part, I very much enjoyed the rest of the book.

The Devil that Danced on the Water

This was another excellent book by Aminatta Forna. I read her Ancestor Stones a while ago and loved that too; I recommend both of these books highly.

The Devil that Danced on the Water is a memoir of Forna's early years when her father was alive, and the efforts she goes to to find out why he was hanged for treason by the government of Sierra Leone. I much preferred the first two-thirds of the book when Forna was writing about her childhood instead of the end where she writes about the trial. For me, it wasn't so important to know all the details. But that isn't necessarily the main focus of the book, so it didn't really bother me. The brief vignette at the very end about the couple she meets in Sierra Leone made it worth reading the entire book (although the entire book was worth reading).

So many of these African countries are forgotten; Forna's books bring them to life.

05 November 2007

Balzac and the Little Seamstress

This book is by Dai Sijie, a Chinese author who has lived in France for many years and writes in French. It's a short story of two boys who are sent to a rural area of China to be re-educated as so many were in the 70s. They manage to get hold of a collection of Western books in Chinese and the story is based on what happens to the boys because of these books.

I rather liked this book. It's only about 200 pages so it's quite fast to read.

04 November 2007

Tandir Ovens and Hard Red Wheat for Naan

The Carpet Wars had an interesting part about hard red wheat that had been shipped from the US to Afghanistan. The trouble was that the dough made from this wheat wouldn't stick to the sides of the tandir and the naan kept falling into the fire before it was cooked. No matter the consistency of the dough, it wouldn't stick.

This totally surprised me since I have never heard anything like this before. I understand that the protein and gluten content of hard red wheat is higher than other types of wheat. I understand that the way you make your dough might make a difference, and certainly the temperature of the oven, but the type of wheat just doesn't make sense to me. I've used hard red wheat for nan a lot of times and it sticks to my bread stone, which is at least fairly similar to a tandir. I wouldn't worry about the naan falling off it the stone were tipped on its side in the oven.

Can anyone shed any light on this one? What type of wheat is normally used in Afghanistan? Or did the humanitarian suppliers just not know how to bake naan? I almost wonder if they didn't have their ovens hot enough.

And while I was trying to learn more about this, I did learn more about the history of the tandir. The name apparently comes from the Semitic word nar which means fire (that's why it's called a tannur in most of the Middle East) and spread from the Middle East to Central Asia and India. There is disagreement on that point though; maybe they originated in Persia or Central Asia instead and spread in both directions. Whatever way they went, they're entrenched in the entire area.

03 November 2007

The Carpet Wars

This book by Christopher Kremmer tells about his travels in Asia in the 90s. A lot has changed in the area since then of course, but it's still an interesting look at Central and South Asia and you'll learn a bit about rugs along the way (I had hoped there would be more about carpets and less about war).

I skipped parts that were more about people fighting each other and I was also disappointed in the section on Tajikistan. Kremmer only went there for a route into one area of northern Afghanistan and only spent a short time in Dushanbe; I would imagine the only reason it was even included in the book was because the civil war had only recently ended.

It was a perfectly fine book, just not what I was looking for. There are better travel books out there about Central Asia, although I enjoyed the end of the book much more that the middle or beginning.

02 November 2007


After Melissa announced her reading challenge, Absent by Betool Khedairi was one of the books that was recommended in the comments. It's set in Iraq in the 1990s during the sanctions and since Khedairi is Iraqi (although she admits that she hasn't spent a lot of time in Iraqi), this is an important look at life in Iraq during the sanctions.

One of the questions in the chipper little reading guide was whether the book ended on an optimistic note. It would have if it didn't have a historical setting, but since you know that America's intervention/invasion of Iraq was coming shortly, well, it's not too optimistic.

There is a bit at the end by Khedairi about the meaning of names in Arabic and if you know the meanings of the names of the characters in the book, it does add a bit. But going off the meanings of the names isn't all that it seems to be in the book, particularly with Adel. (spoiler) Dalal never should have been sucked in by that man.

01 November 2007

China and Toys and Life

I've been a little bemused the last few months by the uproar over products made in China for a couple of reasons. First, I'm surprised this has come as such a surprise to so many people. What did you expect? There have been plenty of warnings in the past about this, although not quite so high-profile. If you're an uninformed consumer, be prepared for surprises about your consumption.

But what really seems odd to me is that we seem to be far more concerned about the possibility of Chinese manufacturing putting lead in our children's toys than with the reality of human rights abuses in China. More importantly, that China is unwilling to use its increasing international clout to stop human rights abuses in Asia (although it did finally condemn Burma as a member of the UN).

I can understand why your typical mother is worried about lead in a toy her baby is chewing on. I don't have a problem with the uproar the potential harm. But can't we be at least as concerned and up-in-arms about the real threats to the human rights, even lives, of billions of people? I'd far rather boycott Chinese products for that reason; to boycott China because we want to lessen the economic dependence on the country that results in so many governments overlooking so much in China.

I like how Suzanne Power put it in Time a couple of weeks ago:

It may take China decades to see that governments that kill at home make unreliable neighbors and threaten global stability. In the meantime a coalition of the concerned must insist that what is manifestly true of the economy is also true of human rights: in this age, there is no such thing as a purely "internal matter."

Land of the High Flags: Afghanistan When the Going Was Good

I had high hopes for this book by Rosanne Klass. It's a reprint (by Odyssey who wrote several of our favorite travel guides) of her time spent teaching English in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. And I wasn't disappointed, not really, but I wasn't terribly impressed either. But there were some excellent parts and it was quick to read.

It seemed odd how thoroughly absent her husband was in the book. I learned about the gardener, the director of the school, the neighbors, etc, but her husband, who was obviously there for a lot of it, had no role in the book. I also wasn't really excited about hearing about the servants so much (she described one for 30 pages); she also lived a pretty privileged life in Kabul, although nearly all expats at the time did (as most expats still do). I would have liked to hear more about her students and teaching, and about their travels around the country, especially since so many things have changed now.

But what I didn't like was how detached Klass seemed. I know she wasn't, given her obviously intense interest in the region since then, but that fascination just didn't come through in the book and I was a bit disappointed with that. Although it was refreshing to not have to read about her opinions and interpretations of everything like you have to in many modern travel books.

Recommended if you're interested in Afghanistan or Central Asia, and it's fairly good as a general travel book.

30 October 2007

Timur Biographies

I checked out a couple of biographies of Timur last week and they both were a bit disappointing. I didn't read all of either of them.

Beatrice Forbes Manz's The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane is fairly short and she is an expert on the subject, but the book was pretty boring, even technical. Not what I wanted, although she doesn't spend all her time on Timur's wars.

Justin Marozzi's Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, however, spent nearly all his time on battles. This isn't really surprising in a bio of Timur, but still, it was a bit much. Marozzi also isn't a Central Asia person. I wanted an author who cared about Central Asia, not just who travelled there to research Timur.

But what really sealed this book's fate was Marozzi's insistence on calling Timur a Tatar. He was not a Tatar, but a Turk from the Barlas tribe. Marozzi admits in a footnote early on that that European "Tartar" is not always synonymous with "Tatar," but really, it rarely is and is not at all in this case. I thought this was a serious error especially since it was perpetuated throughout the entire book.

Maybe I'll try another bio of Timur someday.

The Fifth Child

I'm sorry to say that I'd never read any book by Doris Lessing before she won the Nobel Prize. This one and a few others came recommended.

It may not have been the best book to read when I'm expecting a baby soon, nor when I know families in very similar situations (down to the same name of the troublesome child). I do think things are better now for children and families like this, even though there are still no easy solutions.

Maybe I'll read it again when I'm done having children if they all turn out okay.

If I Am Missing or Dead

This book has been going around one of the message boards I read, so I picked it up at the library. It's not a cheery book, as you'd probably guess from the title, but it is an important book about abuse. The author, Janine Latus, writes about her own abusive marriage and relationships and her sister's. The author manages to get out of hers; her sister Amy doesn't.

Like I said, this isn't a pleasant book to read although it's not graphic. But you see both of these women, Janine in particular since you get a lot more detail about her life, continuing on down paths that don't work.

I hope I never understand an abused woman's mindset, why she can't get out even when she has support to get out, how mentally unstable she becomes with an abusive man.

27 October 2007

Nineteen Minutes

This is my definition of escape fiction. Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes is a very quick read despite its 450 pages. It's not amazing literature and you've got all the typical elements of a novel about teenagers (teenage girl being raised by a clueless single parent and has an abusive boyfriend), but Picoult writes a great story.

I did cheat and read ahead so I could go to sleep on Thursday night, since I can sleep if I just need know find out how it's going to happen instead of what will happen. Or else I would have stayed up much too late to finish the book.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one to sensitive types or who are quite careful about what they read, but other than that, it's a nice book to take up some time. And then move on to something more worthwhile.

25 October 2007

Bury the Chains

Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild is about the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in Britain. It's an interesting topic and Hochschild writes well, but I lost my enthusiasm for the topic about two-thirds of the way through and only skimmed to the end.

24 October 2007

Siberian Authors

I've been trying to find authors from Siberia for Melissa's challenge (see next post) but I am having a very difficult time finding any. I'm not looking for Russian authors who wrote about Siberia or while they were living in Siberia, but for books written by native Siberians. Fiction or non-fiction, poetry, plays, anything. Just so long as it's reasonably well written, and preferably translated into English.

Any suggestions?

Expanding Horizons

Melissa has posted a new reading challenge that starts in January. Go to her blog to read about it and make sure to post your list of books. I think I'll do the 6 book version, but I haven't decided yet on what I'll read. I've requested The Railway through ILL (since I never could track it down for the Reading Across Borders Challenge) and if I can get that one, I'll use it for Asia. My Name is Red would be good for the Middle East, but Turtlebella's Absent (see the comments at Melissa's blog) sounds like an excellent choice too. It'll probably come down to what is available at the right time at the library.

As might the entire list. I've been having a lovely time looking around on others' blogs to see what they'll be reading and I have a growing list of books to check out from the library. Then when it gets around to April, I'll see if I've read enough. Starting in January I'll add links to the books I read for the challenge.

And while I'm at it, here are some links to books I've read that could have been included here:
The Devil that Danced on the Water
Balzac and the Little Seamstress
The Saffron Kitchen
The Color of Water
Anything Can Happen
Siberian Village
From Heaven Lake
Nervous Conditions
A House for Mr. Biswas
Ancestor Stones
Things Fall Apart
Funny in Farsi
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Wild Swans

23 October 2007

When All the World Was Young

This memoir by Barbara Holland was thoroughly pleasant to read. Holland writes about her childhood and her experiences growing up in the 1940s. I wish I had keep something to write with on hand while I was reading because she had so many lines that I would have quoted here, but oh well. Just read it yourself.

19 October 2007

Why You Should Care about Turkey

Bonnie Boyd has an excellent post today (the link "Turkey and the West" is on the sidebar) about how the West has mishandled its relations with Turkey. While relations with Turkey are largely ignored in the media and this last round has only gotten a bit more coverage, it is an important issue. Boyd sums it up nicely in her last paragraph:
So, my fellow Westerners: let’s think again about dissing our best friend and most faithful representative out there in the world at large. Those whom we would like to have as friends watch us: they see how we treat the friends we already have.

Hear that, US Congress? And the EU?

17 October 2007

The Saffron Kitchen

This book by Yasmine Crowther was another quick read. Unquestionably the best thing about it was that is a largely set in Iran with many Iranian characters, but the book has very little about politics or the government in Iran, which was refreshing. The reader is better able to see why Iranians love Iran than in many books where you wonder why anyone lives in Iran at all. When an Iranian behaves well or badly, it is not because s/he is Muslim or a woman or a man or restricted by culture, but simply because that's what that person chose to do.

I had trouble really feeling much sympathy for Maryam, even with the revelation in the last few pages of the book. It was entirely expected and comes up in so many books now that it loses its impact. But the book was mostly told from Sara's point of view, and I imagine that if we'd had more of Maryam's thoughts, I might have felt differently.


16 October 2007

When They Severed Earth from Sky

Apparently I'm hooked on Elizabeth Barber's books right now because this is another book she wrote. This one was written with her husband, Paul Barber and is about mythology. I very much enjoyed this one too. The Barbers take a variety of mostly European and Middle Eastern myths and reinterpret them because they believe that many myths are based on actual events. It really is a very interesting book and highly recommended, although it would have been nice if there had been more myths examined from other parts of the world.

15 October 2007

Shadow Baby

This was a quick and pleasant book to read because Alison MGhee writes so well. The story didn't draw me in quite as much as it has some readers, but I still enjoyed it. The characters are all interesting and Clara, despite being an unusual 11-year-old, sounds like one. The storyline is a bit old, in my opinion, but like I say, McGhee makes it work well. Recommended.

13 October 2007

I heard from the Mittens fundraiser and it is definitely still on. They are planning on having a new website up next week that will make it easy to buy Please to the Table and donate to the fundraiser.

I had grand ideas of posting pictures today, but I didn't. We've been dyeing wool with KoolAid. The whole thing bothers me somehow, but it's cheap and easy and safe. We don't have a wide selection of KoolAid around here though; we need some blues. I think I'll try some other food colorings next week. Then we can just dye our own wool and I can buy the inexpensive and easy-to-spin white roving that every spinning place carries.

11 October 2007

Please to the Table

Nyura has been singing the praises of this book for a long time, so when I happened to see it at the library, I picked it up. I have to admit that I hadn't looked very carefully for it before because I'd never gotten past the subtitle of The Russian Cookbook. I was assuming it was mostly Russian recipes with a few from other parts of the former Soviet Union and maybe a handful from Central Asia.

But the subtitle is wrong, as many reviewers at Amazon also point out. There are plenty of recipes from all over the former Soviet Union and a fair number from Central Asia, although the emphasis is heavily on Uzbekistan. It has hundreds of recipes for all sorts of dishes (although I would have liked more salad recipes; I've not found very many salad recipes from this area even though several salads are featured at many meals and should be featured more prominently in cookbooks from the area) and interesting descriptions and details about different areas of the former USSR.

Recommended. If you do buy it, consider purchasing it here (I assume this fundraiser is still on, but I don't know for sure).

10 October 2007

Backstrap Loom

I've been spinning for about 7 years now. I don't have much equipment since it's not very practical in a family on a tight budget who keeps on moving. But I'm happy without a spinning wheel and drum carder and another spinning wheel for traveling and various skein winders and different types of looms and...

But I still want to learn to weave, so I think it's time to put together a backstrap loom. Even though these looms are largely associated with Central America now, they were one of the earliest looms to have been used all over the world.

Backstrap looms are extremely portable and inexpensive to put together (the two most important features for me), but you can't weave a particularly wide piece of fabric on them. See this link for an example of a piece from a backstrap loom, and scroll further down to see several strips of fabric sewn together. (These pictures are from k'tach, which means weaver in Russian and is rather an interesting blog, despite the all-too-common cat pictures that so many crafters seem to find necessary.)

So maybe in a few weeks or months I'll be able to post pictures of my own loom and maybe even something I made. Hopefully.

Prehistoric Textiles

I'm nearly finished with this book by Elizabeth Wayland Barber who also wrote The Mummies of Urumqi. As I mentioned there, Barber is a textile expert and also teaches linguistics and archaeology. It is a real pleasure to read about ancient textiles from her perspective because she's a weaver herself (she wove the fabric on the front cover based on some ancient textile scraps).

It's not really a general interest sort of book though. It's more for people who are interested in textiles and want to know more about their earliest history in Europe and the Middle East, or for people interested in archaeology. Recommended because Barber writes about technical topics so well.

09 October 2007

General Conference

So I listened to and watched a lot of General Conference this weekend. I slept through some of Sunday's sessions because I wasn't feeling up to staying awake; I didn't even do any spinning or anything on Sunday.

Anyway, I was very pleased that Elder Eyring was called to the First Presidency so we'll get to hear him every conference instead of missing his priesthood session talks (although it means more talks for him). My husband and I both very much like him and his talks and we enjoyed what he had to say on Sunday morning.

I really liked President Packer's talk too, and since I always like Elder Wirthlin, his talk on Saturday was especially meaningful with what happened.

Like I said, I'm a lot fuzzier on what happened on Sunday, but for the parts of President Beck's talk that may have been troublesome (I generally enjoyed it, what I heard and what I've since read), I'll fall back on my favorite parenting/homemaking verse:

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God (D&C 88:119).

While I don't think being an excellent housekeeper is necessary to being a good mother, there certainly are convenient things about being a good housekeeper, but those things have a way of making themselves obnoxious (or just noxious...). I need to keep in mind the playing with the children, the reading scriptures, and the learning and the fun more than the cleaning because those other things are so much easier to forget. No one will notice if you didn't play any games with your children for a month, but they'll notice if you didn't clean the kitchen in that time.

And right now "every needful thing" has been cut way back. I do very little cooking and almost no cleaning. The boys do most of the cleaning and my husband does a lot of the cooking. I sit around and direct (although I try to keep my mouth shut). The only outside activities the boys have are an acting class once a week and scouts for my older son once a week. School takes about 2 hours, and we go shopping once a week. That's it, and it's all I can do right now. And that's fine. There are other times when we'll be able to do more and when other things are more important.

And as usual I liked Elder Oaks' talk. It did seem it was a bit short and I wondered if there will be a little more printed in the Ensign.

And there's my LDS-related post for the season. :)

Pumpkin Bread

The pumpkin bread worked out great. There could have been more flour to hold it together better before it cooled, but the density was perfect when it was cooled. So here's the recipe:

3-3 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
2 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T allspice
2 tsp salt
1/2 T baking soda
1/2 T baking powder
3 eggs
29-oz can pumpkin
1 1/4 c plain yogurt
1/2 c applesauce
1/2 c oil

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes.

06 October 2007

Pumpkin Bread Attempt #1

I decided to fiddle with the old pumpkin bread recipe today and I need to write down what I did right now before I forget. It's still in the oven so I won't have any results for a while, but the batter tasted pretty good. It was still plenty sweet even though I cut back on the sugar.

3 c white wheat flour (none in original)
1 c all purpose flour (original 6 cups white)
2 c white sugar (original 4 cups sugar)
1/4 c brown sugar (none in original)
1 T cinnamon (2 T in original)
1 T allspice (none in original)
2 tsp salt (same)
1/2 T baking soda (2 tsp in original)
1/2 T baking powder (none in original)
4 eggs (I think I'll cut back more on these next time- the original had 8 eggs)
29-oz can pumpkin (same)
1 1/4 c plain yogurt (none in original)
1/2 c applesauce (none in original)
1/2 c oil (1 c in original)

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes. I'll come back another day with the family's votes.

Dislocating China

I didn't have time to get all way through this book because I had to return some books a lot earlier than I planned on, but I'll get it again when I get a chance because it's a very interesting book by Dru Gladney. The subtitle is Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects and covers a fascinating range of subjects from Kazakh genealogy to cultural villages to Chinese films and so much more. It's also very readable and not at all dense. Recommended.

Of course, our friend Seth Frantzman, the expert on everything, thinks the book doesn't accurately distinguish between religion and ethnicity and complains that Gladney is too sympathetic to Muslims. Apparently Franztman doesn't realize that, for example, the Hui are a regularly defined minority in China and that being defined as a Hui is a result of Muslim heritage. In this case, ethnicity is almost exclusively about religion and Gladney is simply following Chinese minorities policy, not making anything up.

04 October 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I very much enjoyed this children's book by Kate DiCamillo. I think it's my favorite of the books I've read that she's written. It's really a very simple story about a china rabbit who learns to love through his many adventures and mishaps. It reminded me vaguely of The Velveteen Rabbit, but it isn't really like that story at all.

The illustrations are beautiful and the book itself is a pleasure to read. It's like reading an old-fashioned book and the story is a bit old-fashioned too, but that doesn't take anything away from it. Recommended.

03 October 2007

Hotsoursaltysweet has finally been updated! They have a few Central Asian recipes up this time, including my very favorite kebab recipe and an unpublished Tajik bread that is quite similar to other flatbreads in Central Asia. Now you know what to make for dinner tonight. :)


Several people asked about my kefir experiment. I haven't tried making real kefir yet with kefir grains because they can be a little hard to get (I have found someone who might be able to give me some soon though), so I've only tried the Yogourmet kefir starter. And since it produces kefir that I am totally satisfied with, I'll probably stick with that unless I get the grains and they are amazing.

It's easy, easy, easy to make with the freeze-dried starter. You just mix the starter with room temperature milk (I mixes up some powdered milk, like I always do for yogurt, so I didn't have to reheat the milk) and let it sit for 18-24 hours on the counter. Then stick it in the fridge overnight and stir it up in the morning and enjoy. Save about 1/4 c of the original batch to start your next liter of kefir (apparently you can do this about 7 times, which is pretty reasonable). You can also make kefir cheese if you let it incubate a little longer till the curds and whey separate; drain it in cheesecloth like you do for yogurt cheese or paneer.

And what is kefir, you might ask? It's a cultured milk product that originated in the Caucasus. Like yogurt, people sing the praises of its health benefits (especially the probiotics), but I just make it because I like to drink it. The boys like it in smoothies better since it is pretty sour. You can also use it in recipes in place of buttermilk, if you like. Kefir tastes the way buttermilk should taste, in my opinion. And if you live in Central Asia, you might be able to buy more reliable kefir than milk.

And how do you pronounce kefir? I've always said keh-fear, as they do in Russia, but when I started asking for kefir started in Utah, no one knew what I was talking about till I said KEY-fur. Ick. Of course, most people didn't know what I was talking about anyway.

02 October 2007


I read this last night for something a little lighter. And it was. I vaguely remembered Melissa reviewing this sometime, so I checked her blog this morning and she reviewed it better than I would, so go read what she wrote.

01 October 2007

Forbidden Journey

This is another excellent book by Ella Maillart. In this book she writes about her journey through China from Beijing down to Xi'an to the southern Silk Road between the Taklamakan and Tibet to Kashgar, and then down to Srinagar in Kashmir.

But what really makes her travel books different (especially this one) is that she traveled at the end of an era. Even though Maillart's trip through China was in 1935, just 72 years ago, it's a completely different world all across China. This trip would no longer be nearly impossible. A hassle, yes, especially along some parts of the journey, but in general very doable. The ethnic makeup of some areas has changed dramatically. The government is totally different. And most of all, the people are different. How could they not be?

Maillart truly is an amazing woman. One thing I learned about her today is that she organized tours to Asia for over 30 years till 1987. I would have loved to have traveled with her!


28 September 2007

Uzbek Nativity

I've been looking around for a new nativity set this year, but since there isn't a lot of money to be spent on such a thing and my mother hasn't found a good one in Russia, I needed to get creative. So I've put together an Uzbek nativity from ceramic figures various Uzbekistanis (ironically, ethnic Russians and Koreans, not Uzbeks) have given us over the years.

Most importantly we have a Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. We've had these for years and it never occurred to me that we could use them at Christmas.

And now as of a week ago, we have three wise men (appropriately enough, since one version of the story claims the wise men were from Samarqand; I still like our Kyrgyz nativity with a wise woman). These three are rather smaller than the two figures above, but we'll survive.

I'll be asking our Uzbek friends (who happen to be Uzbek) if there is any way we could find a couple of sheep or a shepherd. Or maybe a nice Bactrian camel. Since I couldn't find a place online that sells these.


I signed up for that Amazon Associates thing a long time ago and put a link up on the sidebar and forgot all about the whole thing. Since so many people do it, I didn't think I'd ever see much, if any money from the whole thing.

But when I checked my email today, there was a gift certificate that was enough to do something with! So thanks to the kind person(s) who ordered stuff here. I've tucked the money away to use when this book becomes available.

26 September 2007


Fiber project: Spinning wool with older son to crochet a blanket

Book: Forbidden Journey

Quilt: Machine-pieced 5.5-inch squares scrap quilt. I would rather be handpiecing.

Weather: 60 degrees. Perfect.

Tasty thing: Bulgur pilaf with tomatoes and onions

Piano music: David Lanz

Food experiment: Kefir

Level of activity: Almost none, but at least I don't have to stay home all the time

Homeschooling status: It seems we're having a nice unplanned break

Dinner plans: Mashed potatoes with biscuits and gravy

Sound: Older son playing the piano, younger tooting a flute

Added later...
Husband's health status: He doesn't have MS or diabetes or B12 deficiency or a slew of other weird things.

The Tarim Mummies

I think this will be the last mummy book for a long time because I've seen enough mummy pictures to last me a long time. Honestly, if I were an archaeologist, I wouldn't be interested in finding the people I was researching, just the stuff they left behind.

Anyway, this was another good mummy book by J.P. Mallory and Victor Mair, two undisputed experts who are well-qualified to write this book. It's more detailed than Barber's The Mummies of Urumqi and covers more territory as the authors try to pin down the origins of the various mummies and cultures from especially the first millennium BC in east Turkestan. They explain things well, and like Barber, don't assume a lot of prior knowledge.

This book is longer than Barber's and not quite as readable. I'd recommend Barber's book if you're just interested in this topic, but this one too if you really want to know more about it.

21 September 2007

The Mummies of Urumqi

I couldn't post yesterday because I was too busy reading this book by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Barber's research includes textiles, archaeology, and linguistics which makes her particularly adept in writing about the mummies of Central Asia and their probable origins. Instead of the wild speculation you often get about these Central Asian mummies, Barber methodically looks at the possibilities of their origins.

I thought the book was a perfect mix of details about textiles, archaeology, and linguistics. Some commenters at Amazon seem to think it's too heavy on the textiles, but if you read more than the first few chapters, you'll find that textiles are only one part of the book. The section on textiles is also clearly explained and diagrammed so even those who know nothing about textiles can understand what Barber is writing about.

The book is well-documented and has a good bibliography (lots of ideas for further reading). Barber is an expert on the subject but assumes the reader isn't really familiar with the area or the subject and explains things clearly (and the many maps are wonderful; too many books skimp on the maps). But even you are familiar with the topic and the area, it's still a fascinating book.

Highly recommended.

20 September 2007

The Great Game

Yes, I finally gave in and read Peter Hopkirk's book after being told for years that I simply had to read it. I had avoided it for one very simple reason- I'm not particularly interested in imperial and colonial histories, especially when the local people are almost totally ignored. So I didn't care to read about Russian and British maneuverings over a couple of centuries in Central Asia.

And yes, the local populations are ignored in The Great Game in just about every way (unless it's about a treacherous Oriental). It's all about the British and the Russians with a few Indians who fought on the British side. It's also told much more from the British point of view and not particularly balanced, although the book was written at about the time of the breakup of the USSR and there wasn't much access to a reliable version of the Russian point of view.

And despite all this, I rather liked the book, especially the second half. Hopkirk tells the stories well. I was interested in what went on. I particularly liked sorting out how various borders were delimited, but I like borders.

I even recommend it. (Only to Central Asia types though. Who else is really likely to read over 500 pages of Central Asian history for fun?) A concise version of the Great Game would be good though. Maybe I'll check it out again and put together a one-page outline of the major players because I've never been able to remember who went where when and reading this book once didn't cure me.

New Library Books

My boys have decided that visiting the university library is great since the bookstacks are perfect for hiding in, so we went again today. It makes visiting the library a much more reasonable prospect since they have to be quiet enough that I can't find them. I had no idea these were almost exclusively about China till I typed this list up since I don't sit down all at once and decide what I'm going to check out. I'll review the ones that end up worth reading all the way through.

Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang by James Millward

Beyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia by Dee Mack Williams

Forbidden Journey: From Peking to Kashmir by Ella Maillart

Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang by Christian Tyler

China's Muslims by Michael Dillon

The Mummies of Urumqi by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects by Dru Gladney

For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia by Robert Crews

The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West by J.P. Mallory and Victor Mair

19 September 2007

Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk

As the subtitle, Growing Up in Polygamy, says, Dorothy Solomon writes about growing up as one of the children of Rulon Allred's fourth wife. It really is an excellent autobiography especially since Solomon is able to write about her family in a way that makes you care about all of them even though she and most likely the reader disagree with many of the choices those family members make. She doesn't write for judgement, but for understanding.

I thought it was interesting that she writes in much more detail about her childhood than any other time period. I think some of what she remembers as a five-year-old was probably a bit of a stretch. Maybe it's because she doesn't remember as much that she is about to write more about those early years than her obviously difficult teenage years.

The thing that came through most clearly for me was Solomon's love for her father. I felt that, although she had many concerns about polygamy, the fact that she never had enough time with him was the most difficult thing for her. It did seem that at times through the book she almost was treating his memory too kindly, but in the end I felt that she wrote an honest portrayal of the way she remembers her father. And that's a perfectly legitimate way to write an autobiography.


17 September 2007

Ten Circles Upon the Pond

This is a somewhat different book from what I usually read and I enjoyed it. Virginia Tranel is the mother of 10 children and she writes a chapter about each of her children. Even though the chapters are titled after each child, they really aren't just about her children, but the things she learns about them, and from them, over many years. Her children now range in age from about 30-50, so she has a fair piece of experience to draw on. It really is a lovely book and recommended.

14 September 2007

The Ghost Map

This book by Steven Johnson tells how an 1854 cholera epidemic helped lead to the discovery of the way cholera is transmitted and also fired a few more shots in the sorry and old miasma theory of disease transmission. Johnson tells the story well, centering it around a doctor, John Snow. I would be interested to read a biography of John Snow; he's quite the interesting man.

It seemed that there really wasn't enough to the story for a book this long though. A few chapters in a longer book, maybe on finding the sources of various infectious diseases, would have been enough. The subtitle was rather optimistic- The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Yes, this particular epidemic may have had an impact on all of those things, but Johnson certainly didn't convince me that it drastically changed anything that wasn't already changing.

Recommended, but if you want to skip that last few chapters, you wouldn't be missing much.

13 September 2007

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan Mubarak

Middle East and Central Asia Conference

I went a conference last week on the Middle East and Central Asia. Actually, it was almost a Middle East and If We Do Manage to Mention Central Asia, It Will Be Only About Afghanistan Conference, but still, I take what I can get. Since there was so little about Central Asia and despite my interest in the Middle East, I only went to a few sessions.

The first evening wasn't amazing, but I very much enjoyed what I heard on Saturday. A woman associated with Soros spoke about health care in Central Asia, especially HIV and drug use in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This was particularly timely because HIV rates have gone up dramatically in Central Asia and it is beginning to result in lots of accidental infections. Injecting drug users might make up the vast majority of your HIV population, but that doesn't mean you can protect the blood supply when you've got rampant corruption. The presenter mentioned that they were having trouble with the needles that were being exchanged in needle-exchange programs were being sold and used, unsterilized, to hospitals. A brilliant way to make some money. The governments and NGOs in Central Asia have a long way to go, and hopefully not too many more children will be infected because of it. Or hopefully the fact that innocent children have already been infected will spur a little more effort in the area.

I also heard two presenters talk about Afghanistan; one was particularly interesting because his organization has been studying what the Soviets did in Afghanistan in the 80s and trying to figure out what they did wrong (or right, as it is often turning out to be). I picked up a copy of his paper and it has been fascinating to read.

But what made it all worth it was Uli Schamiloglu's presentation on Islam in Russia and Central Asia. He is Tatar himself and mostly focused on the area around Kazan, but with plenty about Central Asia. I would love to take some classes from him. As I mentioned, the conference was almost completely about the Middle East so most of the audience was familiar with Islam in the Middle East, but not with Islam in Central Asia or Russia. Their questions at the end were interesting because of that.

So, I was glad I could go and I'll watch for this conference next year and hope for a bit more about Central Asia.

11 September 2007

The Mummy Congress

I've had this one kicking around my reading lists for a while and had a chance to read it this summer. Heather Pringle writes an interesting introduction to the mummies of the world. If you're looking for much detail, this isn't the place for it, but it's a good general survey.

Pringle is an engaging writer that takes what many might consider to be a gruesome or at least slightly icky subject (I always have trouble getting past the ickiness when I'm reading about mummies) and writes a readable and not-so-very-icky book.

Not surprisingly, my favorite section was on the mummies of Central Asia even though, since it was an introduction, there wasn't anything new there. Pringle's discussions of the social and cultural implications of various mummies is also fascinating even though I find it misleading when you're talking about the Urumqi mummies to talk about Europeans in China.


10 September 2007

Year of Wonders

This is Geraldine Brooks' first novel, and it's a good one. It's her story of one of the plague villages in England where the villagers quarantined themselves in the mid-1600s to stop the plague from spreading outside their town. It works, but the plague takes a devastating toll on the town.

Brooks writes excellent historical fiction here. Too much historical fiction misses the historical part (even if they manage the setting, the characters are too modern), but Anna and the rest of the characters are believable and authentic. And the questions the book raises would be fascinating to discuss.

My only concern was the last few pages. I thought the ending and epilogue was a bit weak and contrived, but Brooks is one of the few authors who could have even pretended to pull off the epilogue, but still, I didn't think it quite worked.


07 September 2007

A Woman's Asia

This is one of the best travel books I've read in a long time. It's a large collection of short travel stories by women who have travelled in Asia. The women are in a variety of countries for a variety of reasons.

It does take a rather limited view of Asia- nothing in Siberia or west of India, China, or Mongolia, but that's not a real surprise, although I was hoping for at least one story from Central Asia (besides Afghanistan, which seems to be the only representative of Central Asia ever- even Registan has turned largely into an Afghanistan fest).

If you like travel writing, this is an excellent book. Recommended.

06 September 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I spent most of June and July rereading books, including all the Harry Potter books with the goal of finishing book 6 just before 7 was released so I'd be ready. I didn't go to one of the midnight parties, but I did pick it up the next morning at around 8 so I could get my sleep. Worked nicely. :)

And I loved this last book. It was the perfect ending to this series (and I honestly don't see how the Christian anti-Harry Potter crowd can complain anymore since the religious/Christian overtones couldn't have been more obvious). It did get a little rambly in the middle, but I was willing to overlook that because I wasn't anxious for the book to end too quickly.

Recommended. The whole series is. And go read Russell's blog about HP. That was the best place for it the week after the release.

So Many Enemies, So Little Time

I stumbled on this interesting little book at the library a few weeks ago. It written by Elinor Burkett about her stint as a Fulbrighter in Kyrgyzstan 4 years before we went. So many of her experiences were so familiar, but she had a little different perspective at times, of course.

About half the book is spent on Burkett's and her husband's travels around Asia, some sponsored by the Fulbright program and others independent. They travel to Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, and more. It's an interesting look at what you can do with a sense of adventure, plenty of money (there is no way we could have afforded the travel they did), and two united adults (children put a real damper on worming your way into Afghanistan).

My Kyrgyzstan was a bit different from Burkett's and I don't think it can all be contributed to the time difference in when we went since it was just four years. If it had been 10 or even 6 or 7, that would have been a significant difference. But Burkett seems to focus a bit more on what they don't have there instead of what they do have, especially at the beginning. Her travels in China were interesting, especially after living in Bishkek, as were ours. China has a totally different impression on you after being in KG instead of the US.


05 September 2007

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies

So it's September. We've moved and the cool weather is supposed to arrive tonight. The laptop seems to be about ready to crash though, so I could disappear again, but for now I have a long list of books to write about. Today's is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

This is the first time I've read this book even though I was familiar with his topic since I've been hearing about this book for years. And it is an excellent and interesting book.

I would have preferred some sort of footnotes or endnotes. Diamond did leave a list of sources for each chapter, but sometimes there were specific things I wanted to know the source on that wouldn't have come from that general list. But this is a general peeve of my anyway in popular non-fiction. I don't think that most readers truly are frightened away by footnotes, and even if you think they are, there are other referencing methods that don't require those scary little numbers. Use them, please? A book like this really should have had been better referenced.

It also was rather repetitive, especially at the beginning. It assumes that the reader has absolutely no knowledge of almost anything, so Diamond spends a long, long time explaining many things. But as with the notes, this is very popular fiction, so maybe I'm looking for things that this book wasn't trying to do.

My only real complaint is that Diamond absolutely doesn't leave any room for human variables in his thesis. I agreed with him long before I read this book that environment has had a much greater impact on the evolution of human society, but Diamond really goes to great lengths to discount any sort of human mistakes or brilliancy in any sort of decline or rise in any human civilization. That is going rather too far.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading this book and do recommend it. Especially to those folks who insist that one race is superior to another.

22 August 2007

If I Tried to Get Security Clearance...

Afghanistanica points out some of the reasons why US government security clearances are few and far between now for some people. Since I've done at least half the things on the list of rejections, I'd better not apply anytime soon. It's particularly silly now when there are few people who even know much about this part of the world.

10 August 2007

I expect the dismal blogging record to continue till September when it will both be cooler and we will have moved. I am so looking forward to this move. And I don't even have to worry about it much because we are HIRING MOVERS. What a novelty. But there are no other options since my husband still is not well and I don't care to move the piano on my own. We're only taking a few things, so they won't even have much to break.

And there is a decent bus and train service and almost everything we need will be in no more than a mile away.

But the thing I'm looking forward to most is living in a more international city. Yes, there are plenty of Spanish-speakers in our current town, but I don't speak enough Spanish to be useful. I need a big city where people speak Arabic and Russian and Persian and sell tandoor naan. The city we're moving to barely qualifies, but it does.

09 August 2007

A Different Meme

At least it's one I haven't seen before. It's from Tina at Hearts Wide Open. She recently adopted a beautiful child from Kyrgyzstan. Lucky.

1. I am: American.

2. My kids are: American.

3. I first started thinking more about race, culture, and identity when: Probably when I was 10 and I went to a different school that had a few kids who weren't white. I didn't think about it much though. Race was a non-issue in our family.

4. People think my name is: English, and it is. That is my maiden name is.

5. The family tradition I most want to pass on is: Learning

6. The family tradition I least want to pass on is: Can't decide

7. My child’s first word in English was: I can't remember for either of them. Probably Daddy.

8. My child’s first non-English word was: Probably something in Spanish (various body parts, and caballo was a hit for years), but possibly Arabic. The next baby is likely to know some Russian or Persian.

9. The non-English word/phrase most used in my home is: There are several that I use every day. Nyet, ne nado, mozhne, nilzya, la timsaku, yallah, bistro. Most of these mean hurry or let's go or no or something like that. I tend to correct my children in other languages.

10. One thing I love about being a parent is: Homeschooling so I can spend more time learning with my children

11. One thing I hate about being a parent is: When you don't know what to do to help a child who is struggling.

12. To me, being an anti-racist parent means: Talking about race and culture in a positive way and often. But also talking about how race and culture have been used negatively so often.

20 July 2007

Suwako Geyser

It's fun to watch geyser videos on YouTube. Here's one of Suwako Geyser in Japan. It erupts to around 150 feet about every hour.

17 July 2007


The only worthwhile thing about summer is the fruits and vegetables. That's it. And the fruits and vegetables are best in the fall anyway. So let's just skip to late September, shall we?

But I'll like the dried apricots and prunes and the peach and strawberry and apricot jam in the winter. It really is worth it, isn't it?

09 July 2007

Guests of the Sheik

Annegb recommended Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea a month or two ago and I have to second her recommendation. This is one of the best books about Muslims that I've read. It's certainly not perfect in every way, but it is excellent in many ways.

Fernea lived in Iraq for two years in the late 1950s (so it's definitely dated) with her husband shortly after they were married while he was conducting research. Most of their time was spent in Al Nahra, a smaller village. Her husband relied on her interactions with the women of the village because he was largely kept from them.

This is not your typical book about Muslim women, especially one written by an American. In some ways it would have been better if Fernea knew more about the history, culture, and religion of the people she was living with before she got there, but the fact that she didn't was an advantage in some ways. She simply writes what she experiences. She learns Arabic while she's there so she can communicate with the women and in many ways leads a native life while she is there- veiling, only spending time with women, etc.

But it's Fernea's slow path to acceptance in the village that makes this book worth reading. For the first several months she visits the women of the village to try to make friends and get to know them, but feels she's not getting anywhere. No one comes to visit her and she feels like an outsider. Finally one day some women come to her house, but instead of the success she hopes for, the women criticize her cooking, her housekeeping, and it seems everything about her lifestyle. Fernea writes, "Six months before, I would not have believed that I could be so upset at being accused of laziness and incompetence by a group of illiterate tribal women."

Things do improve soon after though, when some women teach Fernea how to cook Iraqi-style rice and they find out she can embroider (I kept thinking through the first chapters that instead of formal visits, Fernea needed to find common ground, like embroidery, or ask for help, especially with cooking). She slowly becomes part of the village in her own way.

Fernea's reflections at the end of the book are particularly useful:

I could still recall vividly...the frustration of not being able to understand what was said to me. That circle of unfriendly women...Sheddir spitting out my good bread on the floor. And the chastening realization that the women had pitied me. Pitied me, college-educated, adequately dressed and fed, free to vote and travel, happily married to a husband of my own choice...

What kind of charity combined with compassion had persuaded them to take me in?

Something everyone has to learn when they live in a foreign country, no matter who they are. This book is highly recommended. (And while we're at it, sheik is pronounced shaykh, not chic.)

26 June 2007

Summer Reading

I think I like to reread books in the summer. I've bought a few of my favorite novels again (I think the last batch ended up with a young English-speaking mother in Kyrgyzstan who couldn't possibly afford English paperbacks on her husband's $40/month after-rent salary) and I'm just reading those. Persuasion and House of Mirth and Return of the Native and such. Harry Potter will probably be next. Have to be ready for the last book.

I am reading and loving Guests of the Sheik on annegb's recommendation. It brings back memories, some happy and some that I'd rather forget. There are a lot of forgettable experiences when you're overseas. But there are lots of memorable ones too.

22 June 2007

A Girl Named Zippy

The back cover of A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel says it "offers a rare and welcome treat: a memoir of a happy childhood." And it does. This is a happy and funny book. It was fun to read.

I like how Kimmel's chapters unfold. They seem to start as a little collection of unrelated stories, but by the end of the chapter, they are somehow related. I can't imagine her childhood was quite this organized, and you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that every single person in Mooreland was quite this eccentric, but Kimmel makes it work.

My favorite thing about A Girl Named Zippy is Kimmel's outlook and the family's love that makes this a memoir about a happy childhood. Because all the ingredients are there for a different sort of memoir about a child who overcame a drunken, lazy father, a seemingly indifferent mother, abusive neighbors and teachers, and plenty of poverty too. Kimmel's attitude is what makes this book rare. She doesn't blame her parents or her upbringing for anything. She doesn't wallow in self-pity or pride herself on overcoming anything. She simply tells her story from a child's point of view.

Recommended, but not overwhelmingly so. It's a pleasant book to read.

21 June 2007

Dolina Geyserov

Some of the Kamchatka geysers are coming back to life now that the lake formed after a mudslide dammed a river is draining. The World Wildlife Fund reports that several of the geysers are back in full form, although it appears that at least a few of the geysers are lost forever.

This is the best website (in English and Russian) describing with photos and maps what happened at Dolina Geyserov. And here are lots more photos.

It's funny to see article after article repeating that Kamchatka is one of only 5 places in the world where you can see geysers. They're certainly counting Yellowstone, Iceland, and New Zealand, and probably El Tatio in Chile. But these are certainly not the only places in the world where you can see geysers.

The Color of Water

I'm a good ten years behind on The Color of Water by James McBride, but I finally sat down and read it this week and rather enjoyed it. If you happen to have missed it also (seems like no one else has), it's the story of a black man raised mostly in New York by his white Jewish mother and black stepfather. The book alternates between the author's childhood and his mother's.

I didn't find it to be a terribly amazing or insightful book, but still quite good and worth reading. Recommended.

19 June 2007

Apparently it's becoming an annual trend to not blog much in the summer. I guess I don't like to hang around on the computer so much then. I still need to write about all the quilt books I've been reading, and there are several other good books I've read recently. And I've been doing lots of family history. We've visited lots of cemeteries in the last few weeks.

And I'm still trying to decide on a Latin program.

14 June 2007

Geyser Blogs

I've been waiting a long time for the right people to start some geyser blogs. And finally there are a few. The first is an Amazon blog by Janet Chapple, the author of Yellowstone Treasures. This is more of a general blog about Yellowstone with lots of geysers mixed in.

But the real geyser blog is now at Geyser Notes. It's written by a geyser veteran and is thoroughly enjoyable to read. Yesterday's post about cleaning vents isn't something you can read just anywhere. You can also find more geyser info on the main page at Geyser Information. Thanks Heinrich!