It’s taken three years, five revisions and a list of rejections as long as Donald Trump’s comb over, but at long last Turn Left at Lenin’s Statue is here – or, rather, on Amazon. Here’s a little bit of a description of what you can find, carefully crafted to read like a fireside chat (you can almost hear the log crackling in the background).
So, what is this book about?
Let’s start with a disappointment. It’s not a description of how a car GPS’ instruction would be sounding like in a world where the USSR never collapsed. What it is, instead, is a tribute to Central Asia. Half travelogue and half chronicle, Turn Left follows my journeys through the lands stretching between the Caspian Sea and the Taklamakan Desert. It tells the stories of those who lived – and live – there: from Alexander the Great to long distance truckers, my purpose with this book has been to describe ‘what it means’ to be Central Asian.
Why did you write it?
Delusions of grandeur aside, the idea of writing Turn Left matured with time. I’ve been fascinated with this land ever since I could remember, even though it took about 30 years before I finally landed there, on a snowy day in Almaty. That first visit triggered another and then another and so on, unveiling a reality that was a lot more complex and intriguing than the post-Soviet drivel I expected to find. Eventually, all these stories coalesced into a single mission, which is also the ‘spine’, if you will, of the book: to describe this region through the stories of its peoples. To try and tell what it means to be Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uyghur and so on by letting the people describe their own realities, adding my experiences but without shoehorning my views into theirs.
Why should I read this instead of, say, Eat Pray Love?
To each his, or her, own I guess. But if you want to read something about relatively unknown places – and let’s face it, Tajikistan ain’t exactly Bali – and different peoples rather than the usual me-me-me that infests our lives, then this could be a good option. Plus, it’s got camels, archery, Uzbek footballers and goats. Lots of goats.
Where did you go?
The book documents a long series of rambles, a haphazard tour describing a loop with both ends in Almaty, a lovely city tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of Kazakhstan. Inbetween are chapters dedicated to the Aral Sea, Bukhara, the Pamirs, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang: anywhere opportunities, world politics and interesting stories steered me.
What’s the main message of the book?
Turn Left wants to be a rebuke of today’s tendency to reduce everything to caricature, to a strapline, to a 280-character summary. Central Asia is particularly prone to this, being alternatively described as a swamp of dictatorship, a hotbed of terrorism or a dystopian hell-hole. All of that can be true, as well as it’s true that Central Asia is where I found genuine warmth, true hospitality and selfless generosity. To cut the story short, the one message that Turn Left wants to convey is that reality is a lot more complicated than it seems and that’s not only fine: it’s what makes the world interesting.
One last question: what happens when you turn left at Lenin’s statue?
Well, a lot of things! But, jokes aside, you end up in a dusty courtyard with a dog, an abandoned Russian car and a great view over the Pamirs. See here.
Turn Left at Lenin’s Statue is available as paperback and Kindle e-book on Amazon from today.