Lively, thoughtful, and a big help in elucidating bewildering struggles in faraway mountains.



A satisfying blend of history and travel memoir, set in the tortured, contested landscapes of the Caucasus Mountains.

English novelist Griffin (The House of Sight and Shadow, 2001, etc.) is a devotee of such wild places as Chechnya, Armenia, and Georgia. Why he is attracted to these venues we never quite learn, but his quest has an interesting basis: Griffin travels into the Caucasus to try to “measure the effect one man can have on his region’s history 150 years after his death,” the man in question being the anti-Russian cleric and political leader Imam Shamil, who made life difficult for the Tsar’s empire-builders and provides inspiration for nationalists today. That quest provides a useful thread to hold together this sometimes madcap narrative as Griffin travels from one dreary Stalinist-era city, one snow-shrouded mountain pass to another, gauging the memory of Shamil and, more important, the spirit of resistance that holds Chechens, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and other denizens of the mountains so firm in their hatred of all things Russian save rubles and vodka. There are plenty of reasons for these people to dislike their Russian neighbors. The Muslim Chechens, for instance, were deported en masse into Siberia and Kazakhstan by Stalin, who claimed they were conspiring with the Nazis. They were permitted to return only in 1957, a quarter of their number lost in exile. By the time rebellion flamed into war in 1994, writes Griffin, “Many Russians could not place Chechnya on a map, yet the Chechens had forgotten nothing about Russia.” Today the Russian army is busily destroying every building in the land capable of sheltering a sniper (that is to say, every building in the land). And so it goes, the only thing dividing the Chechens in their unified hatred of Russians being the new class system emerging from the thriving black market—enough, one might think, to scare away the equally tenacious Russians.

Lively, thoughtful, and a big help in elucidating bewildering struggles in faraway mountains.

Pub Date: March 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30853-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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