At a time when Americans are so riveted by questions about their place in a newly hostile world that they are swearing off air travel, Elinor Burkett does not just take a trip; she takes a headlong dive into enemy territories, crisscrossing back and forth between Ronald Reagan's old Evil Empire and George Bush's new Axis of Evil.
Her adventure begins with her assignment as a Fulbright Professor teaching journalism in Kyrgyzstan, a faded fragment of Soviet might in the heart of Central Asia -- a place of dilapidated apartments, bizarre food and demoralized citizens clinging to the safety of Brother Russia. But when she refuses to join the other expatriates evacuated from the "-stans," it turns into much more. She flies into Afghanistan just as the Taliban are departing, mingles with tense Iraquis watching the gathering storm clouds of an American-led invasion and becomes the target of the resentments of the old comrades of the former Soviet Union. Journeying between Iran and Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China and Vietnam, she confronts old enemies in an era of terrifying new ones.
When she left home, Burkett, a seasoned journalist, wasn't gathering material for a book; she thought she was "taking a vacation from reality." But she emerges with a dazzling political travelogue that will make even the most enlightened reader question what he or she has considered as truth. Whether she's writing about being served goat's head in a Kyrgyz yurt, checking out bowling alleys in Baghdad, avoiding mullahs zooming along on motorbikes in Tehran or simply trying to cook a chicken in her own crumbling apartment, Burkett offers an eclectic series of adventures that are alternately comical, whimsical, poignant and discomfiting.
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Elinor Burkett has worked as a newspaper reporter, university professor, and magazine writer. A Pulitzer Prize—nominated journalist and the author of eight previous books, she divides her time between the Catskill Mountains of New York and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.From Publishers Weekly:
"I'm not a danger junkie," Burkett (Another Planet, etc.) declared at the start of her Fulbright year with her husband in Kyrgyzstan on September 18, 2001. In a burst of midlife ennui, the two wanted to move somewhere where she could teach and they could both recharge their cultural batteries. The process of elimination led the pair to this small central Asian republic of the former Soviet Union, advertised as having a "liberal media" and "actively pursuing ethnic tolerance and democratization." When they arrived in Kyrgyzstan, reality overtook them. While appointed to teach "American-style" journalism, Burkett found students so shaped by Stalinist culture, it was all she could do to make them ask questions, much less stir controversy. Unable to resist a little adventure, she and her husband visited Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. When invited, Burkett hosted forums on the media, which usually turned into brouhahas critiquing potential U.S. intervention in Iraq. In Afghanistan, she met with a series of educated women who'd been terrorized by the Taliban and remained fearful. As Burkett walked in Kabul in her burqa, getting elbowed and bruised by men who "walked down the street as if the women simply weren't there," she decided the struggles in Central Asia were more an attempt by hardcore traditionalists to fight modernization than about religion per se. Few readers would actually want to face a dinner of roasted goat brains or dodge bombs on the highway passing the Tora Bora caves; reading Burkett's snappy, witty account nicely suffices.
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