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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Apples Are from Kazakhstan

Apples Are From Kazakhstan, by Christopher Robbins.
 The following review is from  I went there to get a helping hand with describing this wide-ranging book, and discovered that someone had already written the perfect review.  I wholehearted endorse and adopt this review as expressing my opinions more eloquently than I myself could do.  Please do not quote this review as having been written by me.  Give proper credit.  Thank you!

Christopher Robbins, a guy you'd love to have a beer with and swap stories of adventure, absolutely captured a piece of Kazakhstan with his clever and witty book. He takes on a tough task covering the creation of a country from the rubble of the Soviet days. He adds some history and perspective of an enormous sweeping land and a complex society held together by clans and relations, a land often invaded and subjugated but which has maintained a unique identity with wonderful friendly people.

Most of the world knows nothing of Soviet Central Asia, a region kept under restrictive cover by Moscow for 75 years. This is the land of Ghengis Khan and Marco Polo, of the Golden Horde and Trotsky, of annihilation of male populations in 2 World Wars fought 4,000 miles away, and of shady modern-day JR Ewing's with foreign and local accents. Only in the late 1980's were foreigners allowed in, and from that time forward Kazakhs have experienced a rapid introduction to the modern international world, modern day carpet baggers, internal and external swindles, and a rapid investment from abroad.

Mr. Robbins captured with humor and cynicism the post-Soviet modernization era as Kazakhs have gone through growing pains as a Soviet test ground and land of disastrous Moscow policies that led to devastation of the Aral Sea and contamination of vast areas of Kazakh steppe (this was the nuclear test center for Soviets with over 400 above-ground tests and more underground tests, and significant cancer rates in the area around Semey where the testing was carried out). Yet the Kazakh people have strong national resilience and have moved forward step-by-step, led by Nursultan Nazarbayev, a consumate leader in the right place at the right time to lead his people while carefully balancing competing interests of Western investors and the US government, Russian power and influence, Chinese economic and population pressures, and fundamentalist Islamic forces in the south. It's a tough neighborhood, and President Nazarbayev has done as good a job as anyone could do.

From the dank and seedy basement bar of the Otrar Hotel in Almaty to the grandiose presidential palace in Astana; from the empty steppe space center in Baikonur to his visit to the Aral seaport with no sea for 45 miles, Robbins does a terrific job with humor of capturing this amazingly interesting land of the Kazakhs and the people who live there as they build a new country. Having been involved in Kazakhstan since 1993, I found Mr. Robbins did a fantastic job capturing the heart and spirit of this fine people during an unbelievably difficult period in their history. 

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