As a going away present when I left the Richmond Refinery, my boss Barbara Smith, gave me a copy of this book. The full title is Apples Are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robins. I believe it was published in 2008.
I enjoyed the book and initially thought of writing a review. But before I did I looked at what was written on amazon.com. The following review by “Graham” from Palo Alto on amazon.com, published on July 4, 2008, covers most of what I thought. I did laugh out loud a couple times. Once I have been in Kazakhstan for a while I will ask some of the locals what they think of this book.
5 Star Review
This is a strange mixture of a travelogue and an anecdotal history of
Kazakhstan. Robbins characterizes Kazakhstan as an ancient country which has
been long forgotten in the West, and he seeks to rediscover the diversity of its
past and present.
He describes his travels from the wild steppes of the
central country, to the old capital at Almaty, to the nightclubs of the brash
new modern capital at Astana. As we travel, he provides interesting historical
side stories on the Kazakhstan exiles of Trotsky, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn;
on Sakharov’s witnessing of the first Soviet H-bomb tests; and on the horrific
forced labor camps of Stalin’s Gulag. He also recounts many other fragments of
its history, not least that indeed “apples are from Kazakhstan”.
As part of his visit, Robbins had multiple interviews with President Nazarbayev and was
allowed to travel with him during a tour of some of Kazakhstan’s remoter areas.
Nazarbayev’s quoted reminiscences are interesting, especially around the fall of
the Soviet Union and the birth of independent Kazakhstan (although like all
politician’s memoirs, his words should probably be read cautiously). Robbins has
clearly benefited from Nazarbayev’s help and in return he is notably delicate in
addressing potentially awkward issues. There have been allegations of
significant high level corruption in Kazakhstan and of the forcible discouraging
of political opposition, but these are not topics that Robbins dwells on.
On the plus side, Robbins has clearly fallen in love with Kazakhstan and
he paints a broadly sympathetic picture of a country that has a difficult past,
a beautiful but often barren landscape, a climate of hot summers and extreme
winters. He presents a country which is relatively tolerant and, with the
benefit of oil wealth, is growing prosperous and (by the standards of the
region) relatively open.
This is more of a travelogue than a deep history or social analysis, but I found it consistently interesting and educational, and often amusing.