This is a perfect book to take with you on board when flying to Minsk. A couple of hours will be sufficient to master the necessary knowledge of what Belarusians are like. Indeed this book is mostly about people, their ways of living and perceiving the world and their values and attitudes.
The book is much shorter than other, more traditional, travel guides are yet it fills the gaps they often leave open. It does not attempt to explain absolutely everything about the country. Instead it prepares one for meeting people with their distinctive ideas and customs. It is full of DOs and DON'Ts explained with plenty of well observed humour. Being a Belarusian I certainly could recognise myself on many of the pages.
The author spent three years in the country. It was enough to understand some confusing and contested aspects of Belarusian history, culture and politics. Pages about the political situation are probably the most difficult to comprehend; however, the author is very straightforward which helps to keep a sense of the story among a huge number of dates, names and events.
Belarusians' attitudes to authority, money, Russians and other foreigners, as well as minorities, work, nature etc. are offered in a concise and appetising style. Proportionally a lot of pages given to festivals and customs which will certainly be very useful; Belarusians hate to miss an opportunity to throw a party for foreign guests. The author, helpfully, demystifies local drinking culture; this will have you enjoying Belarus and meeting new people safely.
With sightseeing the author has limited herself mostly to Minsk. The book gives select information about open spaces, museums, nightclubs and eating out; these pages do not lack opinion and in this case it is definitely helpful. If your stay is short, this will be enough to decide as to how to spend your time and money best.
The book is not without shortcomings especially when it comes to spelling Belarusian names and explaining some traditional notions and customs. It is a pity that a publishing house just a stone's throw from the Belarusian Centre in London did not get advice from someone with decent knowledge of Belarusian language and culture. However, it is still the most accurate travel book about Belarus I have seen.
I would certainly recommend the book as I enjoyed it a lot. You may want to supplement it with Nigel Roberts's travel guide which is more extensive on history, politics and sightseeing - in Minsk and beyond - but lacks Anne Coombes's down-to-earth observations and critical eye about the people who live there.
'This is an excellent series and Anne Coombes has done a comprehensive job getting to grips with Belarus - which is a country unlike any other. I visited Minsk a couple of years ago and wish I'd had this guide with me at the time...... it opens up a new realm of understanding'