Friday, March 25, 2011

Traveling the Fault Lines of Civilizations

The borders between east and west seems like tectonic plates.  Immense forces of culture, religion, language collide sometimes resulting in earthquakes that alter civilization at the margins.  Sometimes the collision requires us to remake our political maps .  

Perhaps it was probably more imagined that real but the experience of taking a ferry crossing Bosphorus leaving the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side, seemed like leaving one world and entering another.  

Four books on what happens at the faults lines.  

1.  Bloodlands: Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder (2010).  A compelling read on the the frightening use of power by the 20th Century's two most ruthless dictators.  The people of Ukraine, Poland and other eastern Europe territories were first starved to death in the millions by Stalin's enforcement of collective farming.  When Hitler invaded these territories, he deported, starved and murdered the population in the millions to make room for German living space. The whole scale slaughter continued when the Soviets reoccupy the territory.  By the end, it is numbing to try to comprehend the succession of atrocities that total some of 14 million people murdered.    Compelling to the point that I could not set it down.  My father-in-law's family immigrated from Ukraine in the early 20th Century (I could only think how fortunate a decision his parents made to leave when then did).  Kindle edition.  

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

2.  Between East and West, Anne Applebaum (1994).   Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the east European countries, Applebaum traveled through Poland, the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and what she called "island cities."   Applebaum also wrote a book on Soviet gulag system.  Bought used.  

3.  Borderlands: Nation and Empire, Scott Malcomson (1994).  Malcomson's borderlands are Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan.  Still in the "To Read" pile.  Bought used.

4.  Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, Robert Kaplan (2000).  Kaplan ends his journey in the Central Asian "stans."  I was excited by the arrival of this book when it came out since Kaplan ends his trip in Turkmenistan where we were living at the time.  I was able to buy new and have shipped to Ashgabat.  He described the new border lands along the southern edge of the former Soviet Union as "an explosive region that draws the Great Powers."   The Great Game continued.  Bought new. 

Eastward to Tartary Publisher: Vintage

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