As a child in '60s Britain the very name (Outer) Mongolia suggested to me distance, remoteness, other-worldliness even. In the late '80s I had the opportunity to work there and indeed it did seem a bit like a different world - but such a fascinating one. It was socialist (of the Soviet variety) with a rural economy characterised by nomadic pastoralism. Earlier this year I came across an excerpt from 'Mongol' on the web and my interest was piqued. This book is the story of a young girl growing up during the last years of socialism. It is about ordinary family life in rural Mongolia and, if you have been to Mongolia then, like me, you will find yourself reading about scenes that are so typically Mongolian but learning a lot that is new as well. If you have not been there then you will find this book a captivating insight into a very different culture. Mongolia is changing fast and this memoir describes some aspects of life which have now gone completely. The author also describes leaving her childhood home and moving to Ulaanbataar (the capital city) to study followed by further studies in the UK, meeting her husband there and finally settling in Scotland.
But the book is much more than this. At its core, it is the story of the birth and brief life of a much-loved child; a boy with Down's syndrome, born to a Mongolian mother living in Scotland. The author writes candidly about this experience, including the unwelcome revelation that 'Mongolism' was, and in some cases remains, the term used in Britain and elsewhere to describe Down's syndrome. Indeed, it was this that in part provided the stimulus for the author to write the book. It is difficult to do justice to this aspect of the book in a review such as this. You need to read it to appreciate it properly.
Mongol is very well written and easy to read. It is informative, delightful, moving and poignant; all-in-all a wonderful book that this reviewer has no hesitation in recommending.