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Daily Life in Turkmenbashy's Golden Age: A Methodologically Unsound Study of Interactions Between the Tribal Peoples of America and Turkmenistan Paperback – October 3, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Beautifully written, and with plenty of anecdotes from his time in the country, Tranum merges recent history with that of daily Turkmen life and traditions." --Open Central Asia magazine (Spring/Summer 2011)

"Visits to ancient Silk Road cities and run-ins with secret police along with covert operations to spread his views on human rights and democracy all make for a fascinating read." --Open Central Asia magazine (Spring/Summer 2011)

"For two years, Tranum lived [in Turkmenistan] with host families, outside of the capital, Ashgabat, deeper than most foreigners go in one of the most closed societies in the world." --Transitions Online (April 22, 2011)

"Further reading" -- US Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center's "Turkmen Cultural Orientation" publication, 2012

"Engaging and perceptive account of two years' work and travel in Turkemenistan from a then Peace Corps volunteer. The best of a crop of volunteer memoirs of Central Asia." --Lonely Planet guide to Central Asia

From the Author

Although Amazon's publish-on-demand service has been great, I am looking for a regular publisher for this book. Feel free to contact me at samtranum (at) gmail.com.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1453855165
  • ISBN-13: 978-1453855164
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dick Miles on August 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mr. Tranum was a Peace Corps Volunteer(PCV) in Turkmenistan from 2004 until 2006, i.e., while the autocratic ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, better known as Turkmenbashi--Father of the Turkmen--was still alive. I served as Charge (temporary Ambassador) of the U.S. Embassy, 2008-2009, so our paths did not cross. After Niyazov's death in late 2006, Turkmenistan changed to a slight degree--and for the better--under Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. All that is to say that I found Mr. Tranum's very well written book quite relevant in describing the difficult, frustrating and, on occasion, rewarding life of many of the PCVs that I came to know in Turkmenistan. He describes in convincing detail the stifling nature of the all pervading bureaucracy and the petty corruption which has made grass roots progress so difficult to achieve in this admittedly extremely conservative society. He also throws in some nicely researched history.

At the same time he describes Turkmenistan itself in such a realistic manner that I could sometimes remember precisely the sound and smell and the very look of the countryside, the markets and the health clinics where many of our PCVs still are assigned and, above all, the meals so lovingly prepared and served by this most hospitable people.

It adds great versimilitude that Mr. Tranum does not hesitate to put in writing his own indiscretions and cultural mistakes. We all make them when we are abroad but we don't usually record them for everyone to read. Bravo to Mr. Tranum for proving that he is an honest observer.

One final note. I have become somewhat obsessive about the lack of proper editing in the publishing world these days. I think it is something of a national disgrace. I don't know whether Mr. Tranum did his own editing or whether his publisher arranged it, but this book is remarkably free of the errors, typos, non-sequiters and the like which seem to fill many of the newly published books I read nowadays.
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Format: Paperback
No, this book did not make me want to include Tukmenistan in a planned trip through the "-stans". BUT, to my surprise, this slim little power-packed book refused to let me put it down.

It is an unusually well-written example of that generally underwhelming niche genre: political awakening accounts by young American community development volunteers posted to developing countries. They have been around since the'60's and the heady American-idealism-can solve-it-all times of the Alliance for Progress mindset.

But this example is the best I've come across yet: gripping, funny, often ruefully painful and sometimes just infuriating as the author, Sam Tranum, a young middle class idealist of a Peace Corps volunteer, confronts the realities of carrying out community improvement projects in the hyper-paranoaic milieu of a post-Soviet dictatorship rife with petty to high level corruption, inaction, ignorance and, at times, the very real threat to him of personal danger. But Sam just keeps going on, day after day, refusing to give up or to acknowledge reality, figuring out how to elude the authorities and visit forbidden sites around Turkmenistan, organizing summer camps where democracy is tentatively on the agenda, putting up health posters, going for grants that he comes to realize will never produce the desired outcome, and building deep personal relationships with members of his host families, even as they sometimes splinter apart before his eyes under the almost intolerable pressures of "making do"on a daily basis. He comes very close to despair and describes a growing desire to just call it quits and hie on home. Happily,for the reader, he stays on.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Chances are, if you've heard of Turkmenistan, you've heard of Turkmenbasy (aka: Saparmurat Niyazov), the eccentric former president of Turkmenistan, and his absolutely off the wall laws. But what would it be like to live in those conditions? Sam Tranum answers this question for us. The only flaw is that Turkmenistan comes across as any other corrupt, despotic country.

I've been living in Russia for two years now, so I can certainly sympathize with a lot of his experiences from bureauocracy, unreliable transport and being ripped off. But Turkmenistan is definitely a stranger country, with a lot of absolutely fascinating sites like a massive irrigation canal built through the heart of the desert, crumbling prehistoric ruins of early Indo-European civilization, a burning crater, and of course, self-flattering monuments of Turkmenbasy himself.

The reason that this book gets a five star rating is that Sam Tranum has excellently woven enough history into the narrative of his two year Turkemenistan experience. I came away feeling like I had actually been there, and plowed through the book in just a matter of days (while riding around on unreliable Russian transport, I may add). Though the subject matter will hit home best with other expats who have lived or are living in similar countries, even those who don't travel much would walk away with a good understanding of Turkemenistan, as experienced by a Westerner.
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I usually avoid peace corps memoirs, but this book is great. I had read a few news articles about Turkmenistan and was intrigued, and Tranum's book really brought to life what it's like to live there, at least as a volunteer. I think there might be no place similar on earth. The short chapters were the length of a news article, and I kept reading "just one more" until I'd finished the book in a day.
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