This is a year old book. And I still haven't finished it. My bad.
Why am I writing a review if I haven't finished it? Because weekend after weekend, I pick it off my mantelpiece and read a few pages. I leave it on my table and it gets admiring glances from visitors. Something about a foreign country gets reported in the newspapers. And I go back to the book, to see what it says about that country.
After so long, I am not sick of it. Instead, I've fallen more and more in love. That's saying something about the book's quality no?
Okay - let's start with the easy bits. You know what the "ova" in Anna Kournikova or Maria Sharapova means? "Ova" in Russian stands for "daughter of". Just like 'eva" in Elena Dementieva. No, the book doesn't talk about sexy Russian tennis players. But it does have a very quick primer on Russian names right in the preface. Cool.
Now, a stab at something slightly more evolved. Our current national obsession with Pakistan blinds us to links we've had with people and countries from much further afar. Easy example - Babur, father of the Mughal empire. Born in Uzbekistan, he ruled for a while in Afghanistan before invading India.
Point two. Our current cultural aping of everything from the west, blinds us to customs and traditions we share with people on our own continent. Example - the tandoori roti's we so relish in north India, were first made in far away Uzbekistan. The "Pulaou" we pride ourselves on, was probably borrowed from places like Tajikistan.
Point three. We civilians look westwards for solutions for all our strategic problems. But we're blind to how our neighbours could help us. Example - the peace agreement India and Pakistan signed after the 1965 war was signed in Tashkent, in present day Uzbekistan.
True, it was done with Russian help. But the region is still important. Observe how the Indian Air Force tried to build its first international airbase in Tajikistan, which shares a border with China. We were kicked out because we couldn't pay enough cash. But the military now has nascent relationships with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
These are all just - frivolous nuggets. In comparison to the humungous amount of research and data served up in 'Inside Central Asia'. It's the history, politics, race and culture of every country in this vast area, lovingly pursued and offered up for study. It isn't easy to digest - I'm still at it, after a whole year. But if you're naturally curious about people in foreign lands - this is something you'll keep coming back to.
I guess I don't have to spell this out. 'Inside Central Asia' is one of the books on my shelf I'm REALLY proud of. Yes, I'm some sort of weird nerd. But I'm loving it.