Land Beyond the River: Untold Story of Central Asia

Overview

Along the banks of the river once called Oxus lie the heartlands of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. Catapulted into the news by events in Afghanistan, just across the water, these strategically important, intriguing and beautiful countries remain almost completely unknown to the outside world.

In this book, Monica Whitlock goes far beyond the headlines. Using eyewitness accounts, unpublished letters and firsthand reporting, she enters into the lives of the Central Asians...

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Overview

Along the banks of the river once called Oxus lie the heartlands of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. Catapulted into the news by events in Afghanistan, just across the water, these strategically important, intriguing and beautiful countries remain almost completely unknown to the outside world.

In this book, Monica Whitlock goes far beyond the headlines. Using eyewitness accounts, unpublished letters and firsthand reporting, she enters into the lives of the Central Asians and reveals a dramatic and moving human story unfolding over three generations.

There is Muhammadjan, called 'Hindustani', a diligent seminary student in the holy city of Bukhara until the 1917 revolution tore up the old order. Exiled to Siberia as a shepherd and then conscripted into the Red Army, he survived to become the inspiration for a new generation of clerics. Henrika was one of tens of thousands of Poles who walked and rode through Central Asia on their way to a new life in Iran, where she lives to this day. Then there were the proud Pioneer children who grew up in the certainty that the Soviet Union would last forever, only to find themselves in a new world that they had never imagined. In Central Asia, the extraordinary is commonplace and there is not a family without a remarkable story to tell.

Land Beyond the River is both a chronicle of a century and a clear-eyed, authoritative view of contemporary events.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Whitlock, a reporter for the BBC World Service, aspires to write a people's history of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan from 1909 to the present. "There are no accounts in English of Central Asia during the Second World War" reads a terse entry in Whitlock's bibliography, suggesting a problem with this approach: people's histories are difficult to present when a region has little in the way of recorded history. Whitlock is forced to weave in an inordinate amount of textbook-level exposition between her firsthand refugee interviews and excerpts from the unpublished diaries of dissidents, resulting in a book bursting out of its own category. Whitlock's intermittent focus on her close relationship with the inhabitants of these remote mountain valleys tends to make her prose veer toward the romantic, as when she describes how Uzbeks conscripted to patrol the Afghan border in June 1997 "walked back swiftly into the hot, black night, thick with the song of crickets." In the hands of a more gifted writer, such an ambitious approach might have successfully blended the newsworthy and the mundane, but Whitlock's prose is too pedestrian. Her preference is clearly for the "unsentimental lives of survivors," and she escorts us through the diplomatic activities of the elites with apparent reluctance. Although this book is certainly of interest to those with a serious curiosity about the region, more casual readers might wait a few years until this untold story is better told. Illus., maps. (Nov. 3) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
For most Americans, Central Asia remains a vaguely defined and shadowy region, even as our government continues to be drawn into its seemingly ceaseless upheavals. Whitlock, a BBC reporter, focuses on Uzbekistan and Tajikstan but also dedicates considerable coverage to events in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nearby countries. Essentially, she has written a history of the region over the last 100 years, drawing in part on the accounts of local individuals. She writes of the Soviet takeover early in the last century, that country's withdrawal in the late 1980s, and concludes with the recent defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. First published last year in Great Britain as Beyond the Oxus, this thorough, unemotional, authoritative, and evenhanded analysis will appeal to those who want more than just a current events and tourist view of a region that is likely to continue to flash across our television screens. For academic and larger public libraries.-Harold M. Otness, formerly of Southern Oregon Univ. Lib., Ashland Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A welcome survey of a region that remains little known, even if it now often figures in the daily news. First came news that the Aral Sea was drying up, then that great oil reserves beckoned east of the post-Soviet Caspian, then that the Taliban were blowing up anything they didn't approve of in Afghanistan. Whitlock, a BBC World Service correspondent, was on the ground for a number of such events, and her thorough overview of the many lands west of China, east of Iran, and south of Russia is full of luminous facts and interpretations that help explain them. Before the arrival of the Soviets and the demarcation of Central Asia into various ethnic enclaves, for instance, "ordinary people of Bukhara and Ferghana rarely used the words ‘Uzbek' or ‘Tajik,' except, perhaps, when tempers were up in a bazaar row"; after the 1920s, however, race consciousness became ever more important, and to disastrous ends. Afghanistan's king at the time, of a modernizing temper, opened the door to outsiders, which, as an unintended consequence, led to a minor Soviet invasion in 1929—and, Whitlock adds, the first use of Red Army paratroopers. A later Soviet invasion, in 1979, was never approved by the full Politburo; only "a coterie of generals and perhaps four members" ever made the decision to send in the Red Army, which of course changed world history. And so on. A lively writer, Whitlock favors an encyclopedic inclusiveness—in the high valleys of the Pamir Mountains, she writes, for instance, "wheat, walnuts, almonds, cherries, pistachios, apricots, peaches, quinces, figs, apples, pears and pomegranates all grow well, and bread, nuts and fruit are important staples"—that sometimes threatensto drown her narrative in data. But given how little Western readers know of the region, what is wanted is just that detailed compendium, and not another travelogue in the Robert Byron vein. A sturdy, more complete companion to other recent looks at the area, such as Tom Bissell's Changing the Sea (p. 786) and Lutz Kleveman's The New Great Game (p. 952).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312277277
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Whitlock has worked for the BBC World Service since 1991. She first went to Afghanistan in 1992 and was the BBC Central Asia correspondent from 1995 to 1998, with offices in Tashkent, Dushanbe and Almaty. Since then she has reported from Iran and Syria and returned to Central Asia several times, reporting from Dushanbe and Tashkent in the immediateaftermath of the attacks on the United States in September 2001. She now lives in London.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Maps
The setting: The shrine of al-Hakim of Termez 1
1 Witnesses and actors 25
2 Journeys in the dark - the migration across the Amu 49
3 The world turned upside-down 64
4 A town called Monday 77
5 'A paradise on earth' 95
6 'Why were we there?' - Afghanistan 117
7 'What is to become of us?' 136
8 Kartoshka, kartushka - war in Tajikistan 156
9 On both sides of the Amu 182
10 A year in Tashkent 198
11 What happened in Mazar-e Sharif 223
12 The Glinka Street plot 242
13 What tomorrow brings 265
Sources and further reading 273
Acknowledgements 279
Index 281
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    Brief overview of a complex century

    Basically, this book discusses the region where Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan meet and the things that happened in the area during the 20th century. The emphasis is on Tajikistan and the story is mainly told through biographies of four or five people. Most of the four or five subjects were Islamic academics who ended-up as refugess at some point and also spent some time in Soviet prisons. It's a very readable book, my only complaint is that it is not longer and more detailed. I felt like I was reading the abdridged version, but still recommend the book.

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