An impressionistic effort—sometimes engaging, sometimes rather fey—to understand the conflict between nation and empire in the borderlands of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Malcomson, a Village Voice senior editor, also wrote Tuturani (1990). Malcomson spent 1991 and '92 traveling through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, learning the languages and immersing himself in each culture. A little awkwardly, he reports his impressions in the second person (``you enter...'') in a short and episodic form that's part history, part conversation, and part analysis. There is a common theme of confusion and uncertainty as each of the countries attempts to cope with the collapse of communism, with new forms of government, and with the dominant and sometimes overwhelming influence of the West. ``Romania,'' Malcomson remarks, ``was less a coherent zone than a primeval highway to somewhere else.'' Similarly, the President of Uzbekistan, one of the countries now broken away from the former Soviet Union, portrays the country as a ``suffering marginalized victim one day, cradle of humanity the next; at once Turkic, Muslim, Asian, and modern.'' This uncertainty prevails even in Turkey, where, as a result of the impact of Kemal Ataturk, the future has been seen in Western terms, but with a pervasive fear that Europe might regard the Turks as Asiatic. In this part of the world, nationalism has been a relatively recent development, in Turkey the creation of Ataturk in this century, in Bulgaria as a 19th-century reaction to the Ottoman Empire. Often, Malcomson reports today's conflicts entertainingly (``In war and religion there is much to be said for lunacy''), though sometimes altogether too elliptically (``The fact that one can be an Alvei-Bektashi Kizibas doesn't lead to scholarly clarity. But what, in the realm of saints and miracles, does?''). In all, entertaining while also episodic and abstruse.
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