Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apples Are From Kazakhstan

I can tell you exactly where and when I got the desire to go visit Kazakhstan. It was the book.

I am always curious about why people choose one destination over all the others available to them. Why Korea but not Taiwan? Why this National Park over that other one? The responses, if I get to hear them, are invariably illuminating.

In my case, I have been long fascinated by the Central Asian republics -- because of the Silk Road and because to me they are exotic. But I didn’t know much about any of them. The only popular mention of Kazakhstan is in Sacha Cohen’s movie Borat, which does the country grave injustice.

A few months ago, I learned that a very good new book about Kazakhstan had come out. Apples are from Kazakhstan, by Christopher Robbins. Soon, in my local library, I saw the book on display, ready to be checked out. The declarative title is a very memorable one. (A stranger who is the author’s airplane seatmate tells him, “Apples are from Kazakhstan”, and that statement sets off a two year love affair with the country for Robbins which results in this book.)

The book’s delectable cover is a great example of the creative use of digital photo manipulation (Photoshop, perhaps).

At the time, I was getting ready to travel in Ukraine and Moldova, both of which are sister ex-soviet republics just like Kazakhstan and so I brought the book home to read it during that trip.

AAFK is everything a travel book should be. It is about the author’s visits there, but also has history, politics and is full of anecdotes that give us a sense of the country. The author gets access to the President and so we get to read about aspects of Nazarbayev that we otherwise never would. Robbins’ is effusive in his praise of the president, who comes across as a very intelligent person.

Every country should be so lucky as to have a book like AAFK written about it. Do read the book if you get a chance. It is the next best thing to actually visiting Kazakhstan.

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