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Bread And Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia Paperback – 1 Apr 2004
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Tony Anderson set out in the summer of 1998 to walk through Georgia. He wanted particularly to visit the Georgian mountain tribes - Tush, Khevsurs, Ratchuelians and Svans - to discover if they shared a common mountain culture, and to test the old idea of the Caucasus as an impenetrable barrier from sea to sea. From Azerbaijan to Svaneti, Anderson found communities where the old customs and beliefs still triumphantly survive, despite years of Communist oppression and the terrible uncertainties since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Throughout his journey Anderson refers back to many other visits to Georgia, to the politics of independence, to the war in Abkhazia and Ossetia, to the civil war and Shevardnadze's accession to power, to the history of these people at one of the great crossroads of the world. It remains an abiding mystery that Georgia has managed to survive at all, devastated time and again by the vagabond hordes from the steppes and torn between the mighty empires that struggled over it. But survive it has with a vibrant culture still intact and, in the mountains, still deeply connected to its ancient ways.
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Bread and Ashes charts Tony Anderson's attempts to walk the length of the mountains of Georgia. Here we have an almost classic mixture of travelogue, ancient and modern history, post cold war politics and some lovely stories about fascinating people.
Georgia and the Caucuses have often stood at the meetings of different worlds: the meeting point of Byzantium and huns, of Christians and Muslims. Today Georgia stands in a kind of no-man's land between the new nations of the EU and Russia. Such is the mix of the place.
THis is a thoroughly enjoyable book, learned and exciting, eccentric and authoritative. A book that all lovers of modern travel literature should have this on their bookshelves.
The gentle, self-deprecating humour is very welcome to those of us who struggle to absorb the tortuous Georgian names, and Anderson's discriptions of the mountains are 'so vivid that you can see and feel the landscapes' as the Independent says. That same review deserves to be quoted: 'When I finished Bread and Ashes -hanging on every word- I could have wished it twice as long.' I couldn't express it better.
Anderson clearly loves the Caucasus, and that endearment flows through the book. One rapidly realises what a goldmine of history the country is, as he indulges in the most fascinating excurces as background to the narrative. Blessed (or cursed) with a greater diversity of languages than anywhere outside New Guinea, these mountains are a museum of threatened tongues -many with extraordinary features, such as 8 genders or 80 consonants, but spoken by only a few hundred or a few thousand.
A brief history of the Chechens is another stimulating excursus, which illuminates what Anderson says about several of the mountain peoples South of the Caucasus: wild. The cultural richness of the region is not ignored, with descriptions and a few tantalising photos of C11th Georgian "Cathedrals". Perhaps most surprising, though, (apart from meeting a striped hyena on the road) is his account of a mini-empire that opted to become Jewish in the C6th, and successfully held the Arab invasion from crossing the Caucasus a century later.
Then there's the explanation of Jason's Golden Fleece....
The maps are far better than in most books of travel. But since much mention is made of his companion's photography, could we not have enjoyed twice as many photographs?
That somewhere so relatively near to Europe should have so many fascinating secrets is astonishing. Anderson's legacy is a burning desire to go and see these things for myself before the tourists do.
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