A lively, if rarely cheerful, travelogue that fills a yawning knowledge gap for readers concerned with international affairs.

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SOVIETISTAN

TRAVELS IN TURKMENISTAN, KAZAKHSTAN, TAJIKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN, AND UZBEKISTAN

A colorful, often bizarre, sometimes grim journey through five Central Asian nations that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“Although the five countries are in many ways very different,” writes Norwegian journalist Fatland in her first book in English, “they share the same origin and fate: for almost seventy years, from 1922 to 1991, they were part of the Soviet Union, a gigantic social experiment without parallel in history.” Conquered by czarist Russia in the 19th century, this area was a vast territory with an ancient history and a tribal, largely nomadic, livestock-based economy. This culture mostly disappeared after the 1918 revolution when Stalin and his successors introduced modern technology but little prosperity and no personal freedom. Local strongmen enjoyed a good deal of independence from Moscow and took over as dictators when its influence vanished. Taking a page from Paul Theroux, Fatland delivers a capsule history of each place and then chronicles her travels across immense distances, often in the company of chatty provincials, rarely concealing her low opinions of local lodging, food, hygiene, infrastructure, politics, and architecture. It may not be exotic, but it’s unquestionably eye-opening. Mostly desert but rich in oil, Turkmenistan is a bizarre, Orwellian despotism not unlike North Korea’s, with a similarly wacky autocrat surrounded by an apparently worshipful citizenry. Immense Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest nation, is the strongest economy of the five, rich in oil and gas. As befits its size and wealth, its dictator lacks the worst eccentricities of his four colleagues, but his hand is equally iron. Tajikistan is a dirt-poor, corrupt dictatorship; corruption is perhaps all five nations’ leading legacy from the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan, an oppressive police state, does not break the mold. Kyrgyzstan, also poor and corrupt, is a quasi-parliamentary democracy, although not notably stable or free.

A lively, if rarely cheerful, travelogue that fills a yawning knowledge gap for readers concerned with international affairs.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-326-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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