Uzbekistan is a country of contradictions. Where legality meets torture and Islam meets a secular state, Uzbekistan is torn between its historical roots, Soviet rule, and modern consumerism. As a vital ally in the 'War on Terror', yet retaining a deeply troubling record on human rights, even the West is uncertain about how to approach it. In this vibrant account, respected journalist Robert Rand draws on three years living and traveling in the region to carefully deconstruct the cultural allegiances and tensions that color Uzbek life. From the heritage of the country's beloved hero, Tamerlane, to the clash of cultures in Uzbek pop music, this lively book will captivate the historian, the traveler, and anyone who wishes to understand modern life in the ex-Soviet bloc.
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There have been a handful of books published lately that can be considered part of a small "went to work in Central Asia, kept a journal, and made a book from it" genre. Examples include Uzbekistan a Short Road Traveled by William Duncan, Keith Rosten's Once in Kazakhstan: The Snow Leopard Emerges, Rob Ferguson's The Devil and the Disappearing Sea, and Unknown Sands by John W. Kropf.
Robert Rand's Tamerlane's Children: Dispatches from Contemporary Uzbekistan, though somewhat in this genre, is a different creature altogether from Ferguson's book. Rand lived and worked in Uzbekistan between August 2001 and November 2004 as a writer and freelance journalist. He left for Uzbekistan, he says "as a trailing spouse," following his wife who took up a position with the United Nations in Tashkent.
Tamerlane's Children is divided into two sections. The first consists of seven journalistic chapters covering topics and personalities such as love in Uzbekistan, cotton, Amir Timur, and Sevara Nazarkhan. The second part tries to capture what it was like living in Uzbekistan and is compiled from Rand's personal diary, his reporter's notebooks, and interview transcripts. The book wraps up with a chapter on Andijon and a look at the future. The book strikes a good balance between the personal and the informative, and, though it may sound weird coming from me, may be worth picking up solely for conversation with Craig Murray. But even if Murray's not enough to motivate you, Tamerlane's Children is worth picking up as a snapshot of life in contemporary Uzbekistan.