05 January 2011

Goodnight, Mister Lenin

I went into this book with high hopes, thinking it might be something like Red Odyssey. The author is Italian, but lived in Asia for many years.  He happened to be in the Russian SSR in August of 1991 and decided to travel around the breaking-up Soviet Union. He spends the most time in Central Asia, then goes on to the Caucasus, and finally up to Moscow.

But I didn't make it that far.  I realized about halfway through the book that I'm slogging through it.  The author writes a lot in Central Asia about interviews he's had with local politicians (boring).  He also spends a lot of time with Russians in Central Asia because they're more likely to be his translators (since Russians were better educated in general).  So his interactions with Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are limited to politicians, but he actually talks to regular Russians which seems to have given him a skewed view of the cultures.

It was when I read this paragraph that I decided to quit.  The cultural repression mentioned refers to the author's hearing so often about Moscow's repression of local Turkic culture in Central Asia.
I wish someone would explain better if this cultural repression was really a deliberate policy on Moscow's part, or if it was just that the encounter between two cultures, one old and more evolved (the Russians) and one weaker and more recent (that of the minorities) led to the domination of one by the other.
He and I clearly aren't on the same page if he thinks Turkic culture is weaker, newer, and less evolved than Russian culture.

I do think he brings up some very worthwhile discussion about the role of individual Russians in Central Asia and their place after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But he seems to see their role only from a colonizer's point of view, not from that of the colonized. I'd have appreciated a little more nuance.

Too bad, really.  But at least Red Odyssey is out there, doing a significantly better job at what this book tries to do.

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