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Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 Paperback – 4 Feb 2008
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'A timely read... It is a valuable, frank and important work.'
-- Irish Times
'An important book'
-- Guardian (Nicholas Lezard's paperback of the week)
'Beslan is a sensitive, gripping and intimate account of the catastrophe, at once lucid and sobering' -- Observer
'In the shameful absence of any meaningful state inquiry, this study examines not only the massacre but dysfunctional modern Russia' -- Daily Telegraph
`A brave and sensitive writer'
-- Evening Standard
About the Author
Timothy Phillips was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. He
studied at the universities of Oxford and Helsinki and has travelled widely
in the former Soviet Union, including the Caucasus. In 2005 he completed a
doctoral thesis on the role of the holiday resort in Russian culture,
particularly in the Caucasus. He has worked extensively as a translator
and was the principal translator for the BBC on their Beslan documentaries.
This is his first book.
Top customer reviews
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This book should make us all think about the value and sanctity of life. It should touch just a little of our soul. If not, then we will have learnt nothing from this marvelous book by Tim Phillips.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I will not fill you with the gory details (they are there in the book), instead, I want to stress how respectful was the author towards al the persons involucrated in the tragedy and, how even handed he was when depicting to us what took place in that remote corner of the Caucasus, but, nevertheless, caught the full attention of the whole world. This is a tragedy to reflect upon (as all of them should be).
What does this book have to offer? It is a semi-chronological account of the events as they unfolded, with some retrogression due to the use of interviewee accounts. Structurally, the book alternates between the hostage event the history of territory shifts in the region during the Soviet Union leading up the present. In this way, two narrative threads are followed, coming to a kind of simultaneous climax, which I found very effective. In the end, the aftermath is presented as a series of confusing and tragic conspiracy theories, give the impression that the town has suffered from the added tragedy of social implosion, thanks to endless suspicions about collaboration and culpability. These final chapters, detailing the conspiracy theories, are not, as other reviewers have written, a sliding into the repeating of well-known myths, but a testament to how difficult it is to come to a resolution about this event with so many accounts in public currency. Perhaps the irresolution of the book is its most admirable and literary quality.
As my "living and breathing Beslan" period is nearing its fifth year, I would like to add that I recently published a book titled "The Beslan Massacre: Myths and Facts" where I made an honest attempt to dispel some of the most popular myths surrounding the Beslan tragedy. During my research of the subject matter I've encountered many works where authors' statements were difficult to verify leaving the reader with nothing but a hope that the presented material was true. Often, that was not the case. So I decided to go an extra step and provide evidence for my arguments including actual witness testimonies, photographs, scientific explanations, and etc. I hope that readers will not view this update as my attempt to advertise myself or my work. I've been working on this topic long enough to know that a lot of opinions have already been shaped, and any attempt to shed some light on the facts may even be perceived with hostility if the facts contradict such opinions. I take comfort in knowing that facts won't change no matter what someone may believe in.
--Previous review (5/18/2012 with minor changes as of 2/22/2015)--
This book is better than John Giduck's awful "Terror at Beslan", hands down. It is, however, not a very good depiction of events that took place.
I have spent the last two years living and breathing Beslan. Among my accomplishments related to that subject I'd name an article in Russian Wikipedia, which became featured and was voted "The Article of the Year" in 2011. I know... Wikipedia... anyone can edit that... But I wrote the article from top to bottom and hold responsibility for every word in it. During my work, I've read and seen practically everything under the sun that's related to Beslan except for the official Russian investigation materials, which remain secret. I've spoken to some hostages and their relatives, I've interviewed spetsnaz officers that were on site during the events, piled through mountains of court transcripts, expert reports, gigabytes of photographs and videos, you name it.
Mr. Philips' book is a rather comprehensive analysis of events. The first half of the book is quite on target in terms of description of the situation, although using rockets to booby trap the sports hall is a bit excessive. Even for a cvilian that the author appears to be (i.e. no military experience). That's the first half.
Unfortunately, in the second half the author slides into repeating well-known myths, which resulted from a combination of incompetent or dirty journalists, unwise officials and the information war that followed Beslan. These include but not limited to:
1. "The government lied about 354 hostages". The truth is no one knew how many hostages were taken. The rumors had it at between 120 and 1,380. Even the headmistress and the Colonel who were in the building were naming different figures. The headmistress said 1,200, the Colonel said 1,020 (this was during Aushev's visit). The operational headquarters (command center) decided to send local police officers across the city and collect names for those who could possibly be inside. When they were done it turned out "there were" over 4,000 people in the gym because many names were recorded more than once. I have personally seen these lists and I saw one name on the SAME PAGE being repeated FOUR times. The number "354" was announced by the government in regard to the NUMBER OF CONFIRMED IDENTITIES at the gym, but the journalists totally misinterpreted that and it was blown up into a huge scandal. It would take a lot of effort to get to the bottom of this issue whereas it was much simpler to just take for granted what was written in the press.
Keep in mind, I'm not defending the government. They screwed up a lot of things there and there is no doubt about that but they didn't lie about the number of hostages.
2. The tank did not fire at the building during the day time. There are testimonies but generally they're limited to "I haven't seen, but I was told", "I haven't seen but I heard and assumed", "I've seen but no one else around me can confirm". Note that people who heard and assumed sometimes describe an RPG as "a metal pipe that they put on a shoulder and it went "BANG!"". The whole tank topic is too broad to be covered in a book review but, in any case, that didn't take place until late afternoon.
3. The fire did not start until at least 2.30pm (14.30). There are famous photos of a little girl climbing back into the gym. They were taken around 2pm (based on the EXIF information). The pictures taken by the same journalist at 3.19pm (15.19) show blazing fire. There are testimonies of bomb squad soldiers who were in the gym around that time trying to disarm the remaining bombs and get the people out. These soldiers got into the gym roughly an hour after the first explosions. Don't forget throughout this whole time the terrorists were firing at the gym from the canteen and south wing with all they had, which included RPGs, grenade launchers, tracer rounds, etc.
That's just to name a few.
Yes, the book shows genuine respect towards the victims but, I'm afraid, that's not enough for a non-fiction book. Personally, I'd rather see facts than emotions.