Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review #14: Grand Centaur Station by Larry Frolick

(An enjoyable travel book, the grand tour, Central Asian-style.)

Subtitled ‘Unruly Living with the New Nomads of Central Asia’, this book is an irreverent tour of Kiev, Moscow, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkestan, Mongolia and Siberia. Frolick is an engaging travel companion, not afraid to be politically incorrect as he guides us through strange, sometimes beautiful, sometimes devastated, lands. Never content with playing the mute tourist, he constantly engages with people. In Kiev, he meets a gangster and a gorgeous museum director; in Mongolia, a drunken pack of Aussie tourists. On a train, he meets a Korean businessman, and a Mongolian woman who commutes from Los Angeles to Ulan Bator to manage her father’s slaughterhouse. In Tashkent, along the old Silk Route, he finds a market with a hundred different kinds of cherries. Throughout, he observes the crumbling of the old Soviet edifice and the shaky foundations of globalism, the deep past and the unknown future.

When meeting people and observing cultures, Frolick is excellent company; however, his intellectual conceit regarding nomads is all over the map and, like a road into the bush, appears to go nowhere. The writing itself, however, can be exquisite: “…a vast vernal plain, italicized here and there with great strutting strands of red pine…” or “Dawn, the colour of old honey.” But his language is also adaptable – in the Ukraine and Moscow, the air, and the writing, are heavy, as if still-present Chernobyl isotopes and the Soviet mentality continue to weigh on the mind. All in all, a fine travel book on a region still little known (let alone understood) in the West.

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