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Unknown Sands Hardcover – February 20, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Firmly entrenched in the Washington bureaucracy, lawyer Kropf had probably lifted a glass to a few foreign dignitaries in his lifetime, but he'd never pictured himself in the middle of Turkmenistan drinking a vodka toast to Benazir Bhutto out of a large platinum bowl at a family dinner. When Kropf's wife accepted a post as political and economic officer for the American Embassy in Turkmenistan, his Bhutto-toasting fate was sealed. A lawyer with the U.S. State Department, Kropf, his wife and their two-year-old daughter headed to the black hole of Central Asia (featuring the kind of terrain "medieval Europeans had in mind when they filled in the unknown areas of their maps with dragons"), which borders Afghanistan and Iran and has a long history of being a forbidden land of warriors, conquerors, spies and secrets. Kropf travels to the far corners of a country dismissed as uninhabitable by explorers and still governed by an oppressive regime, revealing through his efficient prose intriguing residents still reeling from Soviet occupation and tip-toeing into the 21st century. Kropf stays in Turkmenistan after his wife and daughter return to the states in the wake of 9/11, serving humanitarian missions while neighboring Afghanistan is gripped by chaos. Between the drama are tales of visiting the bazaar, Kropf's comical attempts at haggling (for carpets and traditional Turkmen headwear, among other items) and his discovery of the most delicious melon in the world. Kropf's peek at this isolated corner of a shrinking world is a fascinating narrative bound to hook adventurers.
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About the Author

John Kropf served at the American Embassy in Turkmenistan as the Country Director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Because of his work with the Embassy, he was able to travel extensively through Turkmenistan. He is currently the Director of International Privacy Programs at the US Department of Homeland Security. In addition to writing for the U.S. Department of State as an attorney specializing in international law, his writing credits include creative non-fiction and humor articles that have appeared in The Washington Post and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He also contributed a story to Sports Car Illustrated (now defunct) that detailed his grandfather's 1919 cross-country trek in a FIAT roadster ("Tales of the Mudbound").

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Dusty Spark Publishing (February 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0976356511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0976356516
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By K. Mortensen on March 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"An unprejudiced look at central Asian culture through the eyes of a curious traveler," is probably the best way in which to describe the new book from author John Kropf, Unknown Sands.

This book provides the only real view of a world that even in the 21st century hides behind an iron curtain. John brings to life real and tangible descriptions of a world really only known to most Americans through hearsay and as a side note to the War on Terror.

His journey or, more appropriately, his journeys begin with the assignment of his wife Eileen to the American embassy in Turkmenistan. John then takes you with him on his journeys by foot, bus, airplane, and, usually, four-wheel vehicle throughout the country. The full color panoply of sights, sounds, and, unhappily for John, smells translate literally to the reader enveloping you into the world surround him at the time, from the woman jabbing his ankles with a luggage cart in the Frankfurt airport on his trip out to the pride of his driver in learning to pronounce the name of their American vehicle.

The country John transports you to has the intensity of its underlying cultures that have existed from well before the time of Ghengis Khan with a strong overtone of Soviet political power, which has influenced the last 70 some years. Soviet era cement block apartment buildings share the same atmosphere as centuries old mosques that themselves share the place with new monuments to the country's leader with this last to an almost comical degree.

Also, although John's mission while in Turkmenistan was to supervise USAID programs, his journeys cannot be said to be mere reports.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was researching books on Middle East and Asian politics and stumbled across Mr. Kropf's book through online research. Although not primarily a political discourse, Unknown Sands contains fascinating insight into the cultural, social, as well as political atmosphere of a country many don't know exists. I recommend the book highly not only for academics but as a casual read as well.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By G. W. Goodman on March 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Kropf takes us on a journey which few will ever personally know, His insightful and sometimes witty writing style adds to a terrific read!
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