29 September 2013

Book Review - Drinking Camel's Milk in the Yurt

A little while ago I was contacted and asked to review a book about life in Kazakhstan.  Drinking Camel's Milk in the Yurt is a collection of short stories, written by expats of many nations, each telling a little snippet of their time in Kazakhstan.  The writers come from diverse backgrounds, some are known to me and they write about experiences in different parts of Kazakhstan, notably Astana, the Caspian coast and Almaty.  

As expected from any anthology each entry has a distinctive feel that renders the voice unique to the author. The stories are, however, grouped by theme so the book starts out with a collection of stories about arriving in Kazakhstan. It then runs through History and Traditions, Contemporary Living, Cross Cultural Exchanges, Travelling and The Silent Steppe. 

Each of the chapters has its own charm but I found  some of them more engaging that others, probably because they resonate with my own experience of life in Astana and Kazakhstan. Stanley Currier writes eloquently of a visit to the Dolinka KARLAG museum near Karaganda, so redolent of my own experiences at the ALZHIR camp outside Astana. We have tried many times to visit Dolinka but something has always conspired to prevent us. Mr Currier's essay makes me determined to redouble my efforts. 

Laura Kennedy's chapter talks of her family's relationship with the dvor, the courtyard of her apartment block and how it has served to help her and her children integrate into the community of the building. Living in an almost exclusively Kazakh building we have come to recognise the importance of the courtyard in helping us make friends and settle into our home. 

In every country I have lived we have found our life has been made simpler, our welcome warmer, through the help and assistance of certain colleagues. For this reason, although we may have lost touch over the years I will never forget the warmth of the friendship and the importance of the support of cooks, drivers, housekeepers and secretaries around the world who have become, even for a short while, part of our family.  For this reason I found the most affecting chapter to be Nina Buonaiuto's Tea With Natasha.  The chapter speaks of her relationship with her housekeeper and how this has developed, over time, into a cherished friendship. 

The real beauty of Drinking Camel's Milk in the Yurt is that it acts as a cultural primer for expatriates looking to move to Kazakhstan.  As a destination Kazakhstan is difficult to research, there are very few guide books and very few modern travel books, this book encapsulates much of the expat experience of this diverse, new and fascinating country.

Click the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan. 

Ersatz Expat

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