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Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

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interesting approach, good on persian context and not in awe of the Greeks' later cultural legacy
News from Tartary: An Epic Journey Across Central Asia

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intriguing, very 1930's travel book, that both gives insight into the politics and instability of the warlord period of Chinese history and the last stages of the great game as played out by Britain and the Soviet Union. Also gives a taste as travel as no lnger possible across wild and inhospitable places living on what supplies one could find, what animals one could shoot, and travelling by horse and camel in a way that would no longer be possible
The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke

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Excellent book - readable and witty account of one of the last of the Habsburgs and the political machinations at the collapse of Austria Hungary and the post 1917 revolutionary convulsions in the Ukraine
To Peking: A Forgotten Journey from Moscow to Manchuria

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Wonderful, witty, sardonic, record of a journey across the Soviet Union and Manchuria to Peking in the early 1930s.Very much a period piece in terms of the characters, but a vivid portrait, both of life in the Soviet Union before the descent in paranoia during Stalin's purges, and of the strange bizarre mix of emigres from who knows where that made up the European community in the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria.The writer's style is wonderfully laconic and understated.Truly enjoyable. Should better known.
White Shanghai: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties in China

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A fascinating book, and one built on a nineteeth century scale with several complex subplots. Set in the international settlement in Shanghai in the 1920's it revolves around the various fates of escapees from the post 1917 civil war in Russia. The title is a pun, not only does it refer to white, european society, it refers to the fate of the escapees, all of whom had backed the Whites to a greater or lesser extent.The story follows the main characters as they try to make a living and somehow negotiate the corruption and chaos of 1920's Shanghai, always with the wars and revolutions of 1920's China in the background.The book is quietly atmospheric and a surprisingly absorbing read ...
A Poet and Bin-Laden: A Reality Novel

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In these paranoid times any book with Bin Laden in the title is bound to draw a second glance. And some at least of the Taliban hark back to the eighteenth century effloresence of Urdu and Persian poetry as an example of Islamic culture before its contamination by the west.But this is not what this dense and complex novel is about. Rather, Ismailov blends reportage, fiction and magic reality to paint a portrait of the impact of the events of 09/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan on the peoples of central Asia where corrupt post-Soviet regimes were maintained in power as an act of political expediency by the west.It is a dispriting story of false friends, arbitrary arrests, the suppression of a cultural life just begining to re-establish itself in a post Soviet thaw, and the rise of fundamentalism in central Asia in the post communist ideological vacuum - at times Bulgakov, at times Gabriel Garcia Marquez.This not the easiest novel to read. But it is an important one. Bounded by Russia to the north, China to the east and Iran to the south,Central asia and Afghanistan have immense strategic significance, yet we know little of this region. This novel lets us understand the impact of the post Soviet changes and the war in Afghanistan on this turbulent region.
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