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.