Apples are from Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins
Date completed: 12/7/11
How I found the book: It was sitting on the library shelf, looking innocent.
As I mentioned in my previous post, it was picking up Apples are From Kazakhstan that got me started on this book-reading project in the first place. I thought that I had better get started on my attempt to read one book from each country because I would be unlikely to read any other Kazakhstan books. Ironically, I learned from this book that not only were Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books based on experiences in a Kazakhstan gulag, Dostoevsky spent years in exile there as well.
The book is a combination travelogue and history by a British author who became interested in the country. It wanders over topics such as apples (of course), hunting with eagles, the drying of the Aral Sea, Soviet gulags and nuclear testing, and ‘the Kazakh Beatles’. The author definitely developed a pro-Kazakh bias during his travels, as he himself acknowledged. This was particularly true with respect to the president of Kazakhstan who he spent quite a lot of time traveling with and interviewing. While the bias means that some statements in the book should probably be considered with a bit of skepticism, it also generated a sense of affection for the country for me. Kazakhstan, as portrayed here, is a rough country, with terrible weather and tragic histories, but also full of pride, endurance and optimism.
Probably the most memorable aspect of the book for me was the history from Kazakhstan’s time as part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union falls into the time in history that I’ve always felt least knowledgeable about- too far in the past for me to remember it, but recent enough that school history classes always hit summer vacation before covering it. As a result, I was quite shocked at the magnitude of things that happened. For example, apparently Stalin decided to exile the entire Chechen population and within the space of a week they were all transported to Kazakhstan. I understand a bit better now why the Chechens don’t want to be part of Russia!