So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places

So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places

by Elinor Burkett
     
 

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At a time when Americans were so riveted by questions about their place in a newly hostile world and were swearing off air travel, Elinor Burkett did not just take a trip — she took a headlong dive into enemy territories.

Her yearlong odyssey began with her assignment as a Fulbright Professor teaching journalism in Kyrgyzstan, a faded fragment of Soviet

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Overview

At a time when Americans were so riveted by questions about their place in a newly hostile world and were swearing off air travel, Elinor Burkett did not just take a trip — she took a headlong dive into enemy territories.

Her yearlong odyssey began 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. She then journeyed to Afghanistan and Iraq — where she mingled with tense Iraqis, watching the gathering storm clouds of an American-led invasion — as well as Iran, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China, and Vietnam.

Whether she's writing about being served goat's head in a Kyrgyz yurt, checking out bowling alleys in Baghdad, or trying to cook a chicken in a crumbling apartment, Burkett offers an eclectic series of adventures that are alternately comical, poignant, and discomfiting.

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Editorial Reviews

Brooke Allen
Burkett is often amused and amusing. Her portrait of Iran (''a sort of fundamentalist theme park'' full of ''glitz and kitsch'') is among the best I have read, and she is utterly convincing when she claims that Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, is the most surreal city on the planet. Its bizarre personality cult of Turkmenbashi, the ''oddly anticharismatic Turkmen president, who looked like a used-car salesman in an off-the-rack suit and a bad toupee,'' outdoes the wildest expressions of public devotion to Stalin or Saddam Hussein.
The New York Times
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. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Teaching journalism in Kyrgyzstan. Riding motorcycles with mullahs. And watching from Iraq as plans for invasion heat up. This journalist has done it all. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sharp-eyed, intrepid journalist's account of her recent experiences living, teaching, and traveling in Muslim Central Asia and the Near East. Burkett (Another Planet, 2001, etc.) begins with her August 2001 arrival in Kyrgyzistan, where she will spend a year as a Fulbright professor at the Kyrgyz-Russo-Slavic University in Bishkek, the country's capital. It's the ugliest, shabbiest city she or her husband has ever seen, and their immediate adventures with housing and food are the stuff of comedy. The tone turns darker when detailing Burkett's classroom struggles with her repressed, ill-informed Muslim journalism students. Bewildered by concepts of freedom of the press, competition, and investigative journalism, they mouth what they've long been taught about the US, capitalism, and democracy as Burkett doggedly needles them into the beginnings of critical thinking. In November she makes a harrowing journey into and out of Kabul to report on the situation of women in Afghanistan for Elle magazine. Shortly thereafter she visits Iran, where she finds Stone Age fundamentalism thriving alongside modern technology-or as she puts it, polygamy side by side with Gucci shoes. Teaching assignments take her briefly to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; Burkett's portraits of life there are revealing and vivid, as are her insightful descriptions of her travels in Iraq the year before the US invasion and of her homeward-bound journey through Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The author seems to relish meeting people and picking their brains. Her views are fresh and often funny, her courage astonishing, and her endurance remarkable. Expecting to find hatred, she encounters surprisinghospitality, much curiosity and contradictory beliefs about Americans, anguish at being caught between modernity and old-world traditions, and great unease about the future. A lively and perceptive look at life in parts of the world few Westerners will ever experience firsthand.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060524432
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/29/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
782,795
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

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