Central Asia Books

We frequently regret that the number of books in the world exceeds the time available for reading them. Even the count of volumes in English that we want to read is formidable, though significantly less. And, unlikely as it might seem considering their relative sparsity, we probably won’t even get around to reading all the good books in English on Central Asia. We recently discovered the four books below, each of which was, interestingly though perhaps irrelevantly, originally penned in a different language. Even though, for various reasons, we probably won’t read them anytime soon, we thought they might likewise have escaped the attention of others who share our interest in Central Asia and could profit from them.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby is a travelogue of sorts by a British adventurer who wanted to get away from his job in the fashion industry. It is an apparently engaging account of his trip through Nuristan in Afghanistan in the 1950s. Judging by the preface, written by Evelyn Waugh, it may say as much about the British as it does about Afghans (possibly more); she writes that an American critic called it “too English.” It might be an ethnocentric account of a party of Britons bungling their way across Afghanistan, but it could be a good read; it received high reviews on Amazon. (London: Harvill Press, 1984)

We ran across a reference to Artyom Borovik’s The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the War in Afghanistan in Monica Whitlock’s Land Beyond the River. The subtitle is sufficiently descriptive; a brief look at the introduction suggests a rather grim account, but one that is deeply reflective and thought provoking. Although no translator is identified, this edition cites an original Russian publication titled Afghanistan. (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990)

The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, by Rene Grousset, was translated from French by Naomi Walford. Amazon reviewers note that while this is a classic among Central Asian histories, it should be read alongside more recent sources. This lengthy volume probably isn’t armchair reading, but it does appear to be a useful reference guide to the region. Empire begins in the prehistoric period and extends through the 18th century, covering many topics we have wanted to know more about, such as the Scythians and Sarmatians, the Chinese in the Pamirs, the Chagatai, and the Mangits. It could be a useful work to have on hand. (New Brunwick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970)

Alone through the Forbidden Land: Journeys in Disguise through Soviet Central Asia, by Gustav Krist, is the travelogue of an Austrian who forced his way into Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s and traveled in Samarkand, Bukhara, and the Pamirs. He appears to have spent a fair amount of time in the region previous to the travels chronicled here, so we can hope that his observations are thoughtful and informed. Looks like intriguing reading. Translated by E.O. Lorimer. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938)

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