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The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War Paperback – Bargain Price, May 25, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this searing journey through a traumatized Chechnya, two children orphaned by the civil war—Timur, a violent street urchin, and his sister Liana, a waif molested by her uncle who becomes a kleptomaniac—symbolize their country's agony, abandonment and lingering dysfunctions. Norwegian journalist Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul) includes them in a gallery of portraits drawn from her reporting—sometimes undercover—from the region. These include a kindly childless woman who runs Grozny's last orphanage; a Russian soldier suffering from brain damage caused by a rebel mine; survivors of Stalin's expulsion of the Chechens to Kazakhstan in WWII; and a family whose daughter joined an Islamist sect and died in the spectacular terrorist takeover of a Moscow theater. Even more disturbing is her chilling, absurdist depiction of the regime of Moscow-backed Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, which combines torture and disappearances with a saccharine cult of personality. (One of Kadyrov's youth groups distributed roses on his behalf to every woman in Grozny.) There are many victims but few heroes; the author finds chauvinism and Islamist misogyny to be among the reliable reflexes of the dispossessed in this wounded society. Seierstad's vivid, unsparing reportage makes this distant tragedy very personal. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Seierstad, the author of "The Bookseller of Kabul," first visited Chechnya in 1995, shortly after Russian tanks rolled in. Twelve years later, as another war gave way to a dubious, corrupt peace, she returned, at one point hiding her blond hair and dying her eyebrows and lashes to sneak across the border. This is a chronicle of reciprocal destruction: Seierstad talks to Chechen rebels and to victims of Russian torture; to the mother of a terrorist and the mother of a maimed Russian soldier; to a family that lost four sons to the war and to street children who prove too damaged even for the "angel" of the title, who runs a home for war orphans. At times, Seierstad's persona is intrusive; when the Chechen President praises her looks, she tells us. But she is a humane witness to a dehumanizing conflict, and recent developments in the Caucasus make her testament all the more timely.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019498
  • ASIN: B006LWF5F6
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,501,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Asnes Seierstad wonders, early in this book, "how do you go to a war?" She's based in Moscow, covering what seem to her increasingly mundane stories of Russian life, and struggling to understand the nature of the war that has broken out in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The story begins when she talks her way on to a military transport to Grozny and lands in the middle of what is now known as the first Chechen war, in the mid 1990s.

But the book revolves around the aftermath of the second Chechen War, a decade later, when Seierstad combines the narratives of illicit trips (disguised and traveling under a false Chechen identity) and official 'group tours' organized for foreign journalists. It's the contrast between the two experiences that make up the principal drama of this book. On the one hand, she recounts the harrowing experiences of a mother who loses three of her four sons in various ways -- and whose fourth son returns after horrible torture. Set against the suffering, the absurdity of the current Chechen regime -- widely seen as a puppet government -- stands in even more striking contrast. In a park, police intervene when she is speaking to a local man. "We just have to make sure that people don't say the wrong things to you," the police chief tells her, earnestly. "Things that aren't true. We have to make sure that people tell the truth."

The truth that emerges from these pages is that a conflict of this ferocity leaves few heroes or heroines in its wake. One candidate is the title character, Hadijat, who earns her nickname for taking in scores of orphaned, abused and abandoned children. The children themselves are tragic figures, struggling to build lives of some kind after being traumatized.
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Format: Hardcover
The title speaks of a woman who runs an independent orphanage in Chechnya's capital, a real "angel" who has dedicated her life to the conflict's youngest victims and, indirectly, to a safer and more sustainable future for the republic. However, Asne Seierstad's account of the Chechen war stretches far beyond its children - as it should, given the limited knowledge of most Western readers on the subject.

In her detailed narrative - which manages to be a surprisingly quick read, - Seierstad outlines the war's historic context, dedicates a chapter to the oft-forgotten deportation of Chechens into Kazakhstan, spends time on the plight of Russia's military, and interviews people in positions both high and low. She is an admirable reporter who, in keeping with the best of her profession, seems devoid of fear for her own safety. In addition, her eye for the human side of things makes the book a far more compelling story than most articles published about Chechnya these days.

That said, Seierstad is no superwoman: In the end, she falls victim to the same vices observed among most Western journalists covering emergency situations all throughout the non-Western world. Entire chapters are dedicated to a subtle ridicule of post-war Chechnya. People raised in the comfort and righteousness of the world's more "successful" countries (of the United States or Norway variety) seem to find themselves repeatedly incapable to understand that post-conflict societies cannot flip a switch and become law-abiding playgrounds of free thought.

Perhaps the details of Grozny's cumbersome bureaucracy and numerous (but laughably mission-less) administrative institutions are an attempt by Seierstad to return to the impersonal, fact-based journalistic style missing from the book's first section.
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Format: Hardcover
Either Asne Seierstad is seriously brave or seriously insane. In 2006, despite a ban on foreigners traveling without government sanction and escort to Chechnya, she disguised herself as a Chechen (which, for a Norwegian, involves dark hair dye and long, well-pinned scarves) and, with the help of friends, smuggled herself into the war-torn republic - one of the most dangerous war zones on Earth.

Seierstad is no stranger to war zones. Her bestseller, The Bookseller of Kabul, recounts life in Afghanistan through intimate portraits of a middle class family, gained through her living incognito in that milieu. And her more recent A Hundred and One Days looked at life in Baghdad on the eve of the American invasion.

In this instance, Seierstad is on a quest to meet the Angel for whom this book is named - a Chechen woman who grew up an orphan in the Soviet system, a self-appointed caretaker for the orphaned children of Grozny (the second war, by UNICEF's account, created 25,000 orphans). But, more fundamentally, she feels called to Chechnya, which she visited frequently in the 1990s, during the first Russo- Chechen war:

The trips to Chechnya changed me. When I went back to Moscow to recuperate, I became depressed, had lost my drive. I just wanted to go back again. Real life was in the mountains, where people were waging a life-and-death struggle. Little by little I became almost anti-Russian, from being captivated by the poetry, the music, in search of `the Russian soul', I became aware of the racism, the nationalism, the corruption of senior government officials, the ignorance, the bleak history; as Anton Chekhov put it: `Russian life is like a thousand-pound stone, it grinds a Russian down till there's not even a wet patch left.
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