A philosophical but comic eye on travel,
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This review is from: Lost Cosmonaut (Paperback)
Daniel Kalder casts his sarcastic eye over his own life in Moscow, and then takes it with him to some of Russia's almost-forgotten republics, dragging friends and strays with him occasionally, but mostly alone. I loved his free-form rovings, both physical and philosophical; even he isn't sure why he's bothering to travel to places that are inhospitable, nothing much to look at and only interesting when you aren't in them, and can wonder about them at your leisure. He gets to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, 'home', of a sort, to the Tatar people - though the nature, and legitimacy, of such an idea has been lost in time. All of the peoples in the republics seem to be trying to upkeep an ethnic identity that may simply be a construct, its origins, and language, and religion, all gone. In Kalmykia he finds traces of a lost tribe of Mongols, cut off from their retreating (and ultimately doomed) compatriots centuries before, but they are only traces; he shows that ethnic people in these circumstances don't go around thinking of their ethnicity the whole time - of course not - have to get on with the day-to-day stuff, but that traces of that ethnicity will eventually disappear if nobody ever considers it. Kalder is all for that, I think, with a growing sense of what-does-any-of-this-matter? He finds pagans in Mari-El, and searches for Mikhail Kalashnikov in Udmurtia, getting, it seems to me, more and more convinced of the pointlessness of his travels. If this makes it sound like a gloomy read, then that's a wrong impression I'm giving: it works, buoyed up by DK's brilliant sense of humour and expertise with words.