Sami’s Choice: In Search of Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins
This is an informative and interesting collection of facts strung together in a masterfully written travel log. The book covers topics including nuclear testing, the disappearance of the Aral Sea, the lives of famous deportees (Dostoevsky, Trotsky and Solzhenitsyn), and many other interesting stories. The last couple of chapters, however, have the pungent smell of a docile penmen. He paints a very positive picture of Kazakhstan’s autocratic president, goes to length to legitimize his landslide victories, and offers the president a platform to spread his anti-communist treaty. In all fairness to Robbin, these chapters were probably the price he paid in order to gain informal access to the president and his entourage. Overall, Sami would really recommend this book.
Steph’s Choice: The Zahir by Paolo Coelho
While The Alchemist is one of my favourite books and I appreciate the spiritual wisdom of Coelho, this was not my favourite of his books. This story follows an unnamed author, whose character seems to be loosely based on Coelho himself, who embarks on a spiritual journey after his wife’s mysterious disappearance. I thought the book started off quite strong but became a little repetitive and cheesy for me towards the end. It does give some limited insight and background into Kazakhstan but it is not actually set in the country until the last chapter. Overall, its an easy, light read for anyone planning to visit this part of the world but would not be on my top list of recommended reads otherwise.
This was a great book for one main reason – it doubles as a car. This Kyrgyz book follows the very short story of Ascar and his truck, who gets stuck on top of a giant watermelon. Highly recommended for its sparkly cover and wheels.