TOURNAMENT OF SHADOWS by Karl E. Meyer

TOURNAMENT OF SHADOWS

The Race for Empire in Central Asia and the Great Game

KIRKUS REVIEW

Swashbuckling tales from the history of European competition for control of Central Asia. Beginning in the 1820s, Great Britain and Czarist Russia became convinced that their fates lay in that vast and mainly unexplored expanse of land from Iran to China. From its colonial jewel in India, Great Britain feared Russia’s inexorable march through Central Asia to its colonial borders, Russia of course feared Great Britain’s inexorable march to its own borders, and both were driven by the Kiplingesque desire to bring “civilization” to a benighted people. And so, as one contemporary termed it, the “great game” was afoot, via war, espionage, adventure, and a cast of characters as bizarre as any Indiana Jones film could assemble. Journalist Meyer (The Plundered Past, 1973, etc.) and documentary filmmaker Blair Brysac denounce the game as foolish and in the end largely futile for either side, but they quite enjoy telling the tales of the men and women who played it: the British horse doctor who spent five years exploring Tibet, Afghanistan, and Bokhara; the mad Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky; Madame Blavatsky, the Russian founder of Theosophy who played a mysterious role in the intrigues of Central Asia; Sven Hedlin, the Swedish explorer and Nazi favorite who lived for years in Tibet and fed the Fuhrer’s odd fascination with that land. Rogues, fools, mystics, and the occasional wise observer are all finely etched here. This is a cautionary tale as well, for as little as the great game profited Great Britain and imperial Russia (the authors avert their eyes from its effects on the peoples of Central Asia), it continued to be played by the United States and the Soviet Union with disastrous results—witness the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and unleashing of religious zealotry in the region with which the US must now contend. A ripping, timely, and perceptive yarn. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-58243-028-4
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999




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