All Over The Place
If you’re a fan of Pico Iyer, you’ll love his new book – a collection of essays, reviews and musings that span much of the globe. If you’ve not come across him before, this is as good a way to start as any. There is no superficial linking structure here, with the topics ranging from a trip to Osama bin Laden’s country of birth, Oman, to spending a week in meditation with Leonard Cohen in a Buddhist monastery outside L.A., to an interview with the Dalai Lama, to ’admiring’ a Cambodian tourist attraction of a pile of human skulls, to…well, it just goes on and on. But underneath the surface there is indeed a unifying theme – one that should appeal to expats – the question of what it means to be an exile. Iyer, an ethnic Indian (Asian, not North American) lives in Japan, but is an inveterate explorer, not just of the world but also of the mind. This is vintage Iyer at his best. If you’re an armchair traveler, you’ll find yourself suitably exhausted by his adventures and can end up by relishing his essay on jet lag. You’ll enjoy suffering from it by then.
Sun After Dark: Flights into the Foreign by Pico Iyer, Knopf, $16.07.
Even if your Russian history is a bit hazy (who exactly was Ivan VI, for example?), everybody has heard of Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796. Venerated by Voltaire, admired by Bentham and Diderot, she was the "Semiranis of the North." For over twenty years, she maintained a close relationship with Count Grigory Potemkin. They were lovers, secret spouses – as Douglas Smith suggests in this book – and eventually close friends. Potemkin was, fortunately, more than just a favored courtier. One of his achievements was to complete Russia’s campaign to annex the Crimea and the Kuban steppe. During their relationship, Catherine and Potemkin kept up a continuous correspondence and their letters are the backbone of this new publication. Sensitively and intelligently ordered and edited by Smith, this book provides an extraordinary firsthand account of courtly life and love in 18th century imperial Russia, as well as commentary on many of the most important developments in Russia under Catherine’s reformist and then authoritarian rule.
Love & Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin, by Catherine, Grigorii Aleksandrovich Potemkin and Douglas Smith, Northern Illinois University Press, $40.
Far Out East
Sadly, bears and wolves are not generally seen around Moscow these days. For exotic wildlife you have to go quite a way out of town. If you manage to make it across nine or ten time zones to the other side of Russia – the Far East – you may even get a glimpse of the exotic but endangered Amur tigers and leopards. However, if you find the prospect of such long-distance travel daunting, but still want to find out more about this remote and vast territory, you can do no better than to fork out $60 (paperback, weighing in at 2.5 lbs) or $100 (hardback, 3 lbs) for Josh Newell’s exhaustive and fascinating account of the ten regions that make up the Russian Far East, from Amur, home of the tigers and leopards, to the Jewish Autonomous Region, established by Stalin in the 1920s. If you want to know what’s special about the zapovedniks (nature reserves) at Ussuriisky or Sikhote-Alinsky, for instance, it’s all here, along with just about everything else you can imagine and a great deal more. Gold mining, illegal exports, the timber industry, oil and gas reserves, ecology - you name it, it’s here. With contributions from over ninety specialists in various disciplines, most of them Russian and from the areas they write about, this book is the definitive guide. It is also amply and beautifully illustrated with maps, charts and outstanding color photographs. At the price (plus $9.95 for delivery in Moscow), this is more an investment than a casual purchase, but its rich contents certainly mean that it’s worth it.
The Russian Far East: A Reference Guide for Conservation and Development, by Josh Newell, Daniel and Daniel, $99.95 (hardback), $49.95 (paperback). Order direct at http://www.rfebook.com/