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Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Humourous and sensitive, I would recommend this book highly.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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!
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.
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