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The Land That Disappeared

Author: Christopher Robbins

This is a funny and revealing travelogue of Kazakhstan, a country rich with wild tulips, oil, nomads who hunt with golden eagles, and a disappearing landlocked sea.

Closed to foreigners under Tsar and Soviet rule, Kazakhstan has remained largely hidden from the world, a remarkable feat for a country the size of Western Europe. Few would guess that Kazakhstan—a blank in Westerners' collective geography—turns out to be diverse, tolerant, and surprisingly modern, the country that gave the world apples, trousers, and even, perhaps, King Arthur.

Robbins enjoyed unprecedented access to the Kazakh president while crafting this travelogue, and he relates a story by turns hilarious and grim. He finds Eminem-worship by a shrinking Aral Sea, hears the Kazakh John Lennon play in a dusty desert town, joins nomads hunting eagles, eats boiled sheep's head (a delicacy), and explores some of the most beautiful, unspoiled places on earth.

Kirkus Review

Everything you always wanted to know about this vast, sparsely populated former Soviet republic but didn’t learn from Borat.

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen did not invent Kazakhstan, as one Western woman assumed in a conversation with British journalist Robbins (The Empress of Ireland: A Chronicle of an Unusual Friendship, 2005, etc.). It’s the land of the ancient Scythians and Sarmatians, “shrouded in mystery from the beginning of time.” Seeking to dispel some of those mysteries, the author conducted research and made visits over several years. Apples are thought to have originated in Kazakhstan, he tells us, and tulips too; today it teems with abundant oil reserves, coal, copper, uranium, platinum and gold. Robbins’s travelogue enthusiastically and infectiously blends history, observation and mini biographies. Kazakhstan virtually disappeared from sight when Russia expanded eastward in the 19th century, bringing along tyranny as an unwelcome export. The region’s remoteness made it a favorite with both tsars and commissars for disposing of political undesirables: Dostoyevsky did time in Kazakhstan; Stalin exiled Trotsky there in 1928; and Solzhenitsyn was one of countless prisoners who suffered in the Kazakh Gulag. Robbins tells happier stories as well. He met a real-life berkutchy, who hunted with eagles trained from infancy, and the sole surviving member of the “Kazakh Beatles,” whose enthusiasm for the Fab Four was “fresh as the day he first heard ‘Please Please Me.’ ” The author also interviewed Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led his people to independence in 1991, privatized industry, introduced a new currency and valiantly dealt with a leftover nuclear cache and a major environmental disaster. On his last visit, Robbins learned that Nazarbayev planned to build a giant yurt with indoor gardens, beaches, a concert hall and an underground shopping court, “to provide winter fun for everyone” during Kazakhstan’s long months of subzero temperatures.

A captivating read notable for off-the-cuff candor and measured, eloquent prose.

$12.95 (softcover)
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