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Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana Kindle Edition

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Length: 420 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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An innocent coming-of-age story from a young Latina journalist who recounts her stays in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, circa 1996 to 2000. There is little to nothing of late-breaking news in Griest's report from her foreign postings. Moscow still smells "of equal parts vodka and sausage, leather and tobacco, sweat and strife," and Beijing of "cigarette smoke, sweat, and soy sauce." You still need permits and papers in Russia, and the bureaucracy still creaks with inefficiency; democracy is a long way off, the revolution is dead, and war and corruption are in: same old same old. In Beijing, where she toils for the English-language propaganda sheet, journalism is all about not offending your friends (North Korea), not recognizing your enemies (Dalai Lama), and steering clear of the sensitive: AIDS, drugs, capital punishment. Cuba, too, gets a standard-issue treatment: "Revolutionaries might be genius military strategists, but they are crummy economists," conveniently forgetting the embargo. So the value of all this comes down to Griest getting off the beaten track, which she does often enough to keep the pages turning: working in a shelter for children in Moscow to taste the downside of vodka; learning to shrug off fiercely held convictions to get into the stomach of the Chinese via the food bond; and dancing (and dancing) in Cuba. The energy she puts into these pursuits opens her mind and drives her story past some hackneyed material (" 'Look at their faces,' Elena whispered in my ear. 'This is real Russia.' "). Here, she can avoid received opinion because she is creating her own, tossing aside "the anvil of history," and slipping on a new pair of cultural spectacles, letting her doubts and new-found notions rise to the surface. Griest at least gets out and about and drinks in some cultural relativism rather than assuming the omniscient cloak of the foreign correspondent. (Kirkus Reviews)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 884 KB
  • Print Length: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (18 Dec. 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000XUDG6M
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #781,991 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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By A Customer on 26 Aug. 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting account of the author's travels around socialist and post-socialist countries. It sensitively explores some of the major social problems associated with, for example, the transition from socialism to capitalism, minorities in Beijing and Moscow (and the gaffs foreigners make in countries they don't fully understand!).
Humourous and sensitive, I would recommend this book highly.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x93f78774) out of 5 stars 25 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93ef91a4) out of 5 stars Move over Bryson 18 Mar. 2004
By Daniel E. Doremus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I rarely buy into the "so good you can't put it down" rhetoric when talking about books to read. Stephanie Griest's Around the Bloc is an exception. Reminiscent of my favorite, Bill Bryson, she has an amazing combination of detail, brilliant humor, and historical research that both teaches and entertains. This is a book that can profoundly change the way young people look at foreign travel or foreign study. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to study abroad as a guidebook for how to truly capture the essense of cultural immersion. Griest's re-discovery of her own culture through learning about others is an inspiring gem of a lesson.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9452e6c0) out of 5 stars A "coming of age story" sounds just way too cliched for this hombre...lo siento... 19 Nov. 2006
By Adam Daniel Mezei - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Ay, caramba!

AROUND THE BLOC is more than a coming of age story, dear Readers.

The following is a laundry list of what you're genuinely missing when you ascribe such facile titles to this amazing little read:

1) The wonderful (and many) impactful lines of prose that emanate from the pen of someone so young, yet with so much on the ball (at the time of writing, that is -- the "young" part, not the "on the ball" part). Griest is possessed of an awareness that few individuals of mixed ethnicity and/or race choose to properly acknowledge. Inside the pages of this book, Elizondo Griest attacks this concept with a doggedness and reckless deliberation that's so downright inspirational! I would like to travel in her wake.

2) There were several passages which I came across where I just had to place the book down beside me to take a deep "resetting" breath. How author managed to touch so many sensitive chords within me, I'm positive the effect was similar on the others. Ms. Elizondo Griest doesn't hold punches. When she refers to things like love, lust, heartbreak, depression, devastation, and sex, she does **precisely** that. When Griest refers to how pained she was when the man who meant everything in her life dropped her for the second time (in as many chances), you hurt right along there with her. If you don't, you don't have much of a emotional bone within your body. Someone so outspoken and delightful doesn't deserve to get hurt like that. At least this was my initial reaction.

3) This is a young woman who has criss-crossed the world and back again, all in an attempt to seek the answers for the most essential life-donning questions which those of us who take such things for granted are never inclined to ask. Essential burning questions of indentity. Of the need and desire to understand who she really is at her core--not as a by-product of some consumerist collective--or where she really came from. By dipping into the collective unconsciousness of several nations of which she herself wasn't a descendant (Russia, China)...then beginning to relate these lessons to the things she knew and loved about herself (which came about more in Havana). Just gorgeous. In several spots the narrative, the author delivered up this story with a dramatist's expert flourish.


The pages just turned. I never **once** felt a need to stop reading (the only time I had was because I'd been interupted by something other than the read).

Intentionally, I believe, Griest constructs the narrative with a rising crescendo. The story commences in Moscow, Russia and moves through Beijing, China. As the journey concludes in Havana, Cuba, in a country closest to her US home, Stephanie comes face to face with a daemon which has been dogging her for most of her early adult life.

When she least expects to find the answer which has been plaguing her mercilessly, as she describes it, it confronts her hard. It hammers her when she finds herself doing an activity which one might consider enough to pull her thoughts away from such critical existential questions. Dancing the rhumba, or talking with a couple of Cuban college students on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

Rather than writing AROUND THE BLOC and ending things with a question mark, Elizondo Griest is even more convinced by the book's end about the righteousness of her choice of having travelled around the entire world, steadfast in her desire to want to know more about her essential self.

Like a highly sympathetic character in a novel or a film, you really want this person to succeed--dareisay win (?)--because the righteousness of her mission is just so important. It becomes as important to you as it initially is to Stephanie.

Haven't we all had such dilemmas in our life?

In this age of mixed identities, to be able to claim a purity of a connection to one's ancient or not-so-ancient culture is indeed a complicated decision, rife with paradoxes.

Even those who are "so-and-so"--how much of that "so-and-so" can they really be in the face of an environment which pulls them into defining themselves as something much more general than merely the binding specificity of one particular race or (former?) nation-state?

There are so many things which lay claim to our selves, at our cores. Griest cannot be blamed for having been sucked into this simplifying evening-out vortex, too. So deep has she been submerged into the commonality of the "Western experience," that it has become a compelling struggle to pull herself out. Like it is for others in her situation, who have written about things similarly.

It has been an honour and a privilege to follow her along her path. I can't thank her enough for having made me a part.

It's been to a gift to witness the changes, as she wrote about them, and as the book appears to be the culmination of many months and years of introspection and sometimes piercing self-doubt.

I've cherished each and every one of these pages. Thank you Stephanie.

If there ever were a sixth Amazonian star, it would go to Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

--ADM in Prague
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x943cc798) out of 5 stars More than a memoir -- an amazing read!! 10 Mar. 2004
By Daphne Sorensen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I loved this book for many reasons, including the fact that it is as much a travelogue as it is a memoir (and a "Communist 101" history lesson)! Griest is funny and candid about her own initial misconceptions and cultural misshaps (her account of the Chinese lunch with her new colleagues is priceless!), but she still manages to bring her stories to life, avoiding caricatures and cliches.
Some of Griest's experiences resonated with me, like the challenges of settling into life in a foreign city. Although I have never traveled through China or Russia, her amazing gift for story-telling made the places and people in her book seem surprisingly familiar.
I highly recommend "Around the Bloc"!!! And I can't wait to see where she travels to next!
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93f05420) out of 5 stars A Taste of Communism 9 July 2004
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This seems like a pretty good idea for a book: adventures of a twenty-something in three Communist capitals. Throw in the kicky title and a punchy attitude and it can't lose.
I enjoyed Griest's stories. Her writing style is light. I can understand the criticisms of one earlier reviewer here who thought Griest was too superficial and didn't learn anything. I'm not sure that's really the case, but Griest does keep her narrative in the moment, without spending too much time analyzing what it all meant. This makes for a smoother telling of the story.
Griest spends the most time in Moscow and knew years ahead of time that she would go to Russia someday. This section was not surprisingly the best part of the book. The part about Beijing was okay, in which Griest works for an English-language Chinese newspaper. She never fits in and is constantly reminded of the fact. Her journey to Havana is a spur-of-the-moment trip, and it is more fun than Beijing. She doesn't have to worry about upsetting the boss or embarrassing her friends. Even though she's there for only a short time, she falls in love. She also falls in love in Russia, but only after she has been there quite awhile. And she never gets close to having a serious relationship in Beijing.
Around the Bloc is a good first book. It isn't as good as Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, another book about a journalist who finds adventures halfway around the world. Although it's more revealing, somehow it isn't as personal. But I suspect that Griest will only get better and I look forward to more from her.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93f051a4) out of 5 stars Travel by book 1 May 2004
By pinkie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As someone who has always planned/thought/meant to travel and have lots of adventures of my own (but never actually had the means or time to travel), I can really appreciate all the detail and descriptions in Ms. Griest's Around the Bloc. I may not always agree with her conclusions, but I actually am grateful for them. I would so much rather hear opinions that cause me to think than feel affirmed or bored. It is almost as if she is an incredible, funny, and lively travel companion throughout this journey around the "Communist Bloc" and I get to hear her end-of-the-day assessment of her adventures and then begin to form my own. Her openness throughout the book about her experiences and mistakes help to endear and make her experiences much more "real" than a flat newspaper-style book. I have learned SO MUCH from this book about places that I will likely never visit and very much enjoyed having my eyes open to new perspectives on some very old issues.
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