From Publishers Weekly
Tayler (Siberian Dawn
) takes readers on an extraordinary adventure across the largest landmass on earth, from Russia through the Caucasus into South Ossetia and Georgia, on to Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and across Xinjiang and Mongolia. Equal parts history, politics, economic theory and anthropology, he brings into sharp focus the ordinary lives behind the news headlines. Of particular interest are two recurring discoveries he makes—replacing totalitarian dictators with democratically elected (often U.S.-backed) leaders opens the door to enormous corruption, and that where there is electricity, there is always a disco. Tayler marshals hundreds of years of history, from the conquests of Genghis Khan through the dislocation caused by WWI and WWII to the Chinese Communist revolution and the glossy, urban China of today. While the author's approach to exploration is haphazard at times, his impressive ability to build instant rapport and cull local knowledge in a remarkably short span of time gives his journey steady momentum. Tayler conveys his encounters in prose that is as richly textured as the stories he gathers in some of the remotest places imaginable. (Jan.)
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Tayler, a talented journalist with the soul of an intrepid nineteenth-century explorer, is particularly fascinated by the world’s most remote borderlands (the Sahel in Angry Wind, 2005; Siberia in River of No Reprieve, 2006; among others). Here, the author covers the lands conquered by Genghis Khan in a 7,200-mile overland journey, from his home in Moscow south through the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea, then east across the deserts of Kazakhstan and Inner Mongolia, all the way to Beijing. It’s a harrowing journey, characterized by bad roads, bribe-seeking officials, and harsh climes (not to mention the liver-destroying local hospitality), but the author is fortified with historical knowledge of the region and a desire to witness firsthand the new geopolitical frontiers of Central Asia. And so, through encounters with taxi drivers, Cossack patriots, club-going teenagers, and a few affectionately described female guides, Tayler documents the lingering effects of the Soviet era, the chaotic emergence of modern capitalism, and the persistent stirrings of tribalism. Part sociopolitical inquiry, part adventure story, this selection brings an often-overlooked region to life. --Brendan Driscoll