18 August 2010

Red Odyssey: A Journey through the Soviet Republics

Language hat recommend this one in his review of The Possessed.  It's nearly 20 years old and out of print, but my library happened to have a copy and it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read about the Soviet Union or traveling in Central Asia. 

It's by Marat Akchurin, a Tatar who was born and raised in Tashkent and lived in Moscow at the time the book was written.  He traveled a lot throughout Central Asia before this book was written and speaks Uzbek well (he was raised in a mahalla) and can therefore get by in a lot of other Turkic languages.  He studied Islam and speaks Arabic also and lived in Iraq as a translator for the USSR.  In other words, he's uniquely positioned to write a book about the Soviet Union.

He travels by car from Moscow through Kazakhstan and spends a little time in Kyrgyzstan (since he was forced to leave early because of the violence in Osh province in 1990 (sounds familiar)), and also goes to Samarqand, Tashkent, Ashkabad, and Baku.  The chapters on Uzbekistan are the best, but the entire book is excellent.  It's a completely different and refreshing perspective on the Soviet Union and Central Asia.  Highly recommended.

One quick warning for the one person who'll probably read this- there's a short violent bit at the beginning (this is the Soviet Union in 1990, after all), but don't be dismayed.  The rest of the book isn't like that at all.


  1. This book sounds great, and to my surprise, my library has it. So it's on hold now. :)

  2. I'll be interested to see what you think about it.

  3. I'll let you know. :)

  4. I'm about a third of the way through, and it's really really interesting. And horribly depressing; I'd never heard of the Aral Sea disaster, or realized the extent of the damage the Soviets did to the Central Asian countries. (Well I'm sure I have no idea of it still.) I think I'll have to take a break tomorrow and read something lighter...but I'm very glad I'm reading it!