Thursday, 7 February 2008

Review of Revolution Baby

After years of hard word and fretting over writing Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan it's always very rewarding when people contact me to say how much they've enjoyed reading it. Carole very kindly sent an extremely detailed review and it was especially gratifying to see that she had enjoyed and interpreted the book in a way I hoped people would.

Review of Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan by Carole in Amsterdam

Ever wondered what life would be like as an ex-pat living in a small but feisty corner of the former Soviet Union? Well, this would be an excellent primer to help you figure that out. Saffia’s husband is a water engineer, so his work for an international aid organisation tends to lead the family to the most out-of-the way places; of course, all the “soft” postings (like my current location, the Netherlands) already have universal clean drinking water for their citizens.

The book itself is an engaging and well-written and essentially sympathetic account of Saffia’s time in Kyrgyzstan, a tiny, mountainous, central Asian province squeezed in between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan & China, a stone’s-throw away from Afghanistan.
From my point of view as a fellow “trailing spouse”, I found myself struck by the parallels of the expatriate lifestyle, despite the vast differences in our circumstances.

About the only similarity I can draw between Amsterdam and Bishkek is that they are both capital cities, yet the essential alien-ness of life away from “home” (don’t even get me started on where “home” precisely is!) is an experience that will be familiar to anyone who has ever lived abroad. Homesickness, hopelessness, culture-shock (and don’t forget the “reverse culture-shock” which is somehow much worse than any other kind) jostle with the sense of accomplishment that comes from starting to master the language, finding your way around, meeting new people and even just managing to carry out the most basic of daily tasks.

Whilst the main focus of the story is Saffia’s experience of pregnancy and raising a small child in a country with no reliable healthcare and limited resources, it also has much of interest to say about the politics of international aid, Kyrgyzstan’s struggles to come to terms with the legacy of soviet rule, international ulterior motives and western foreign policy.
I would highly recommend this book to anybody who is remotely curious about the recent history or politics of the former soviet central Asian republics, I would also recommend it to anyone who has lived or is contemplating living abroad.

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