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Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana Paperback – March 9, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (March 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812967607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812967609
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Griest was a high school senior in Texas, a CNN correspondent told her that if she wanted a globe-hopping career like his, she should learn Russian. Four years later, she went to Moscow and spent a semester at a linguistic institute, beginning a four-year period of travel (1996-2000) to 12 nations, including much of the former Soviet bloc and Communist China and Cuba. Readers will quickly intuit just how little of Griest's adventures made it into this account, as a two-month Central Asian trek gets a single sentence and Eastern Europe falls completely by the wayside. But there's little opportunity to regret what's missing because of the captivating stories that Griest does choose to tell. From the sight of an old woman stealing canned goods from a shopper who'd passed out in a Moscow grocery to the aggressive banter of Havana black marketers, Griest has a journalist's eye for compelling detail. Her youthful romantic attraction to "the Revolution" is slightly less attractive, at times treating the largely defeated Communist movement as almost exotic, and naive daydreams about matters like the "damn good loving" she might find from angst-ridden Beijing men can occasionally induce winces. But she doesn't flinch from depicting the brutal effects of authoritarianism and economic decline, or how her experiences hastened her political and emotional maturity. Though still raw in places, Griest's writing shows great promise; she may wind up joining Tom Bissell (Chasing the Sea) in the vanguard of a new generation of travel writers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Griest begins her travel memoir with a promising theme: at 21, she set off for Moscow with some fellow Texas college students in an attempt to strengthen her Russian language ability and deepen her understanding of Russian culture. Griest accomplishes the goal of changing her misconceptions not only about the Russians but also about the Chinese and Cubans, by spending the next four years traveling and living among them. Along the way, she has many surprising, bizarre, and even touching experiences. Yet, despite her informal journalistic approach (which is wonderfully accessible and conversational), there are moments of immaturity in her accounts that make the book seem more like a collegian's diary than a poignant journalistic endeavor. Her travelogue is, therefore, "in your face," for better or worse, and because of this may well appeal most to twentysomething readers. However, Griest is a fine observer, open to experiences and frank in expression, and she certainly is entertaining. Janet St. John
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Stephanie Elizondo Griest has mingled with the Russian Mafiya, polished Chinese propaganda, and belly danced with Cuban rumba queens. These adventures are the subject of her award-winning first book "Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana" (Villard/Random House, 2004). Atria/Simon & Schuster will publish her memoirs from Mexico in 2008, and Travelers' Tales published her guidebook "100 Places Every Woman Should Go" in February 2007. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Latina Magazine, and numerous Travelers' Tales anthologies. An avid traveler, she has explored 25 countries and once spent a year driving 45,000 miles across the United States, documenting its history for a website for kids called The Odyssey. She has been a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and is currently a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and a Board Member of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Please visit her site at

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 25 customer reviews
I look forward to reading her next book about Mexico.
I gauge how realistic Stephanie's account of Russia and Cuba by her description of the Chinese, since I know a great deal about China myself.
J. Yu
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel and memoir writing.
Moacir Luz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Doremus on March 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
I rarely buy into the "so good you can't put it down" rhetoric when talking about books to read. Stephanie Griest's Around the Bloc is an exception. Reminiscent of my favorite, Bill Bryson, she has an amazing combination of detail, brilliant humor, and historical research that both teaches and entertains. This is a book that can profoundly change the way young people look at foreign travel or foreign study. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to study abroad as a guidebook for how to truly capture the essense of cultural immersion. Griest's re-discovery of her own culture through learning about others is an inspiring gem of a lesson.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Adam Daniel Mezei on November 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ay, caramba!

AROUND THE BLOC is more than a coming of age story, dear Readers.

The following is a laundry list of what you're genuinely missing when you ascribe such facile titles to this amazing little read:

1) The wonderful (and many) impactful lines of prose that emanate from the pen of someone so young, yet with so much on the ball (at the time of writing, that is -- the "young" part, not the "on the ball" part). Griest is possessed of an awareness that few individuals of mixed ethnicity and/or race choose to properly acknowledge. Inside the pages of this book, Elizondo Griest attacks this concept with a doggedness and reckless deliberation that's so downright inspirational! I would like to travel in her wake.

2) There were several passages which I came across where I just had to place the book down beside me to take a deep "resetting" breath. How author managed to touch so many sensitive chords within me, I'm positive the effect was similar on the others. Ms. Elizondo Griest doesn't hold punches. When she refers to things like love, lust, heartbreak, depression, devastation, and sex, she does **precisely** that. When Griest refers to how pained she was when the man who meant everything in her life dropped her for the second time (in as many chances), you hurt right along there with her. If you don't, you don't have much of a emotional bone within your body. Someone so outspoken and delightful doesn't deserve to get hurt like that. At least this was my initial reaction.

3) This is a young woman who has criss-crossed the world and back again, all in an attempt to seek the answers for the most essential life-donning questions which those of us who take such things for granted are never inclined to ask. Essential burning questions of indentity.
Read more ›
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daphne Sorensen on March 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I loved this book for many reasons, including the fact that it is as much a travelogue as it is a memoir (and a "Communist 101" history lesson)! Griest is funny and candid about her own initial misconceptions and cultural misshaps (her account of the Chinese lunch with her new colleagues is priceless!), but she still manages to bring her stories to life, avoiding caricatures and cliches.
Some of Griest's experiences resonated with me, like the challenges of settling into life in a foreign city. Although I have never traveled through China or Russia, her amazing gift for story-telling made the places and people in her book seem surprisingly familiar.
I highly recommend "Around the Bloc"!!! And I can't wait to see where she travels to next!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
This seems like a pretty good idea for a book: adventures of a twenty-something in three Communist capitals. Throw in the kicky title and a punchy attitude and it can't lose.
I enjoyed Griest's stories. Her writing style is light. I can understand the criticisms of one earlier reviewer here who thought Griest was too superficial and didn't learn anything. I'm not sure that's really the case, but Griest does keep her narrative in the moment, without spending too much time analyzing what it all meant. This makes for a smoother telling of the story.
Griest spends the most time in Moscow and knew years ahead of time that she would go to Russia someday. This section was not surprisingly the best part of the book. The part about Beijing was okay, in which Griest works for an English-language Chinese newspaper. She never fits in and is constantly reminded of the fact. Her journey to Havana is a spur-of-the-moment trip, and it is more fun than Beijing. She doesn't have to worry about upsetting the boss or embarrassing her friends. Even though she's there for only a short time, she falls in love. She also falls in love in Russia, but only after she has been there quite awhile. And she never gets close to having a serious relationship in Beijing.
Around the Bloc is a good first book. It isn't as good as Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, another book about a journalist who finds adventures halfway around the world. Although it's more revealing, somehow it isn't as personal. But I suspect that Griest will only get better and I look forward to more from her.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By pinkie on May 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
As someone who has always planned/thought/meant to travel and have lots of adventures of my own (but never actually had the means or time to travel), I can really appreciate all the detail and descriptions in Ms. Griest's Around the Bloc. I may not always agree with her conclusions, but I actually am grateful for them. I would so much rather hear opinions that cause me to think than feel affirmed or bored. It is almost as if she is an incredible, funny, and lively travel companion throughout this journey around the "Communist Bloc" and I get to hear her end-of-the-day assessment of her adventures and then begin to form my own. Her openness throughout the book about her experiences and mistakes help to endear and make her experiences much more "real" than a flat newspaper-style book. I have learned SO MUCH from this book about places that I will likely never visit and very much enjoyed having my eyes open to new perspectives on some very old issues.
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