From Publishers Weekly
Delving deep into a world most westerners are shamefully ignorant of, this highly readable collection of essays about Turkic people from Virginia to Xinjiang, China, buzzes with life and personality even as it explains topics as obscure as the inner workings of Azerbaijani politics. Pope, who also wrote (with Nicole Pope) Turkey Unveiled and is the Istanbul correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has a knack for storytelling and an inexhaustible store of novelistic details-the pop of a weld torch, for example, as an Istanbul ironworker explains that UFOs are proof that Americans have djinns (evil spirits) instead of souls. The only real flaw in this appealing, affectionate portrait of the Turkic world (a term that includes all Turkish speakers, not only those who live in Turkey) is that all this vivid reporting can't compensate for a relative lack of big-picture analysis. The book's dozens of otherwise deft capsule histories of obscure corners of the world have an oddly free-floating quality, unmoored from any clear geopolitical understanding. It is perhaps this that gives some of Pope's conclusions a tossed-off feeling. "Bulgarian Turks still do not really trust the Bulgarians," he writes in a chapter about the persecution of the former by the latter, before breezily concluding, without offering any supporting evidence, that "the edge is off the conflict." Pope's gift for accessible writing make this an excellent first book for anyone interested in the subject, even if its dearth of analysis means it shouldn't be the last.
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With the end of the Soviet Union began independence for a half-dozen Turkic countries, where Istanbul-based reporter Pope has made forays for the past 15 years, traveling in both presidential airliners and faltering taxis. Pope does not organize his trips chronologically, but, rather, according to what he believes are the seven collective characteristics of Turkic peoples. One is the "military vocation" epitomized by Turkey itself, whose military is regarded as the guardian of secularism; a concomitant trait is predilection for the political strongman. None of the new Turkic states is a liberal democracy, and none less so than Turkmenistan, home to a shambolic personality cult devoted to its dictator. Pope's talks with officials are always revelatory of local and international politics, but readers will most value his perceptiveness about Turkic culture when he, speaking fluent Turkish, meets ordinary people. Some of these are Uygurs, the Turkic minority suppressed by communist China, and others are part of the Turkic diaspora in Europe and America. A sensitive presentation of how Turks view themselves and their future. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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