I think that the author must be quite a charismatic young man - having signed up to help a Christian organisation in Khiva in Uzbekistan, he befriends most of the locals and gets them organised making beautiful carpets to traditional-based designs and with traditional dyes. Far from being a technical description of carpets and their making, he brings to life the personalities and his surroundings. His descriptions of visiting the families who are producing silkworms is entertaining and surprising. Life in Khiva 15-odd years ago can not have been easy but the author travels with determination and works with the local people with enthusiasm. Well written and an easy book to read - a surprising pleasure.
Christopher Alexander has written a most interesting account of his years in Khiva, a backwater town on the old Silk Road. The overall theme of the book - setting up carpet and silk weaving workshops despite having no experience in anything connected with such projects - is a great read in itself. Added to that are the insights he shares as he gradual integrates into Khivan society by learning the language, living with a local family and making Uzbek friends.
Woven into the narrative are enlightening accounts such as how the locals rear silkworms, how to obtain silk dyes from natural sources, how to engage locals in the success of the project, how felt is made along with other eye-opening information. Since the ingredients needed to make natural dyes are best sourced from Afghanistan, the author reveals a glimpse of life in Afghanistan and the challenges of getting sacks of mysterious powder across the border back into Uzbekistan without resorting to bribery.
Each chapter has at least one, and often several, fascinating digressions into Uzbek life: how married women are treated by their families; customs surrounding the circumcision of baby boys; how Uzbeks (from school kids to surgeons) are forced to spend two months picking cotton each year; why Uzbek women loves Mexican soap operas; how blind and deaf children are educated; what goes on in bath houses; how to cook a cauldron-full of sumalek for a New Year feast; coping with endemic corruption; the role of German Mennonites and Nestorian monks in the history of Uzbekistan; how the Soviet-inspired health system "cures" patients who need glasses.
The book is not a what-to-visit guidebook to Uzbekistan but would make great background reading for anyone planning a visit to the country.
The amount of time I put into reading this book was insignificant compared to the interest, entertainment and learning I got out of it.
Once in a while I select a book thats on offer and find its really fantastic, I could not put this down, I like to read a variety of things the only books I dont tend to read are chick lit type romances and murder mystery of the Agatha Christie type ( sorry Mum I have kept all your Agatha Christies that you collected before you passed away I know you loved them) Any way i was enthralled in this book of history achievement and culture, also the insight into another world so far from the one I live in, and was facinated that I took to googling the places such as Kiva and Samarkand also Taskent and I even looked up sericulture, theres a new word for me, The people were brought to life and their lives became interesting and Chris I was so sorry he was denied the ability to return, I now think of Uzbekistan in a whole different light. I hope theres another book on another one of his travels and adventures, If youn need an interesting insight with a good sound story this book ticks all the boxes on another culture and somes one unselfish attitude to try and help and improve the people he lived and worked withs lives I just wish there were photos in the kindel book.
Author Christopher Aslan Alexander has led a somewhat unusual life. Born in Turkey but brought up in Beirut he went to work (and of course live) in Uzbekistan after university, initially to help write guide books, but ended up staying for seven years and starting a school for carpet weaving.
Part travelogue, part biography this is a fascinating tale of what life is like in this part of the world, where Soviet politics and principals meet in sharp contrast with the Central Asian and Muslim lifestyle with all of its ancient traditions, but somehow seems to gel. The way that Alexander writes (and he did write this himself) really brings the characters and this unique way of life to life, to the extent that you feel as if they are right there in your own living room with you.
It is not of course all light, as there is also a darker side to this part of the world, which Alexander does not shy away from - the corruption and bribery, which is rife in this part of the world, and which eventually leads to his expulsion, the way that young brides and societies misfits (the vulnerable and disabled) are often treated, organ trafficking, and the sexual mores of young men, who short of female partners turn their attention to their donkeys instead.
Reading this book taught me a lot about all of these issues and has no doubt opened the eyes of many who like me, tend to think of the former Soviet states as white Russian when they are clearly most of them not, for the Soviet Union spanned for miles from the Baltic states in the west to Siberia in the east, with much in between. The book also of course provides insights into carpet weaving and its history, but for me it is the stories of Alexander himself and his fellow Uzbeks that really bring the tale to life.
The author travels to Uzbekistan with a not for profit agency to write a guidebook to the historical city of Khiva and ends up living there and starting a social enterprise which weaves silk into carpets using traditional patterns employing local people.
This is a really interesting book which captures the beauty of the area and its complex history and culture. It showed me a lot I did not know about how this country and how its people live and think, especially in the shadow of Afghanistan and Russia its near neighbours. The people of the book are described in all their variety of character and so too is the life of the country.
I did feel that there was possibly a lot left out by the author about the work he did and also about what happened after he left but what is here is excellent travel writing with some fascinating historical nuggets. Easy to read and very involving.
Christopher Aslan Alexander has written an inspiring book about his second home in Khiva which he was forced to leave with a heavy heart. He went there with Operation Mercy, a new organisation to me, but its ethos and priciples seem to be clearly lived out in this book by the author. He arrives in a foreign land (in all ways) and helps those who are among its least priveleged to work,earn respect and money and make beautiful carpets. It would have been easy to write a book like this and emerge as the centre-piece of the story. 'Aslan' avoids that and instead we get a story focussed on others. I empathised totally with him in his discomfort in certain situations where good manners conflicts with personal values and the overwhelming desire is to run as fast your legs can carry you. I think he explains that with the same care and modesty as he has written the whole book. The workshop's principalled battle against the corruption of the society in which is based ultimately brought about his downfall. He does not shy away from telling the truth about the Uzbech government or himself for that matter.
Aslan has done a good thing in going to Khiva and another good thing writing this book. Operation Mercy comes across as worthy of support. I wish him well in his new location and hope for a book about that in years to come. (Proverbs 16v6)
Absolutely loved this very personal and entertaining account of Chris's time in Khiva. Having recently visited Uzbekistan the descriptions of both the people and the places perfectly captured this amazing place. It might have been better to have read about the rather traumatic experience of not having the right visa before we went ourselves, as we nearly had a similar problem. Our visas were for the correct days but the wrong month and we very nearly didn't get into the country. If anyone is thinking of going to Uzbekistan, we couldn't recommend the book highly enough. If Uzbekistan is not on your list, this book gives you a wonderful insight into a rather special place that is still off the beaten track, and may tempt you into broadening your horizons.
This delightful and honest book spares no modesty in sharing the intimate details of life and customs of the population of Khiva! The author share his experiences in setting up a carpet weaving workshop, using natural dyes, and the ways and means of achieving this. As an erstwhile dealer and collector of Central Asian textiles and costume, I am particularly fascinated by his story and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in rugs! It is also a very readable travel book, but not for the squeamish!!
Fantastic book which really draws you into the Uzbekistan life, the people with plenty of touching and or funny/absurd anecdotes and the world of carpet making (who knew it was so interesting?).
Other reviews have been far more eloquent than I could be in my review, so I'll just add one thing - before reading this book I knew little about central Asia and had little desire to visit. After reading A Carpet Ride to Khiva I arranged a trip to Uzbekistan. Amazing trip and an amazing place to go and the country is so much more than Khiva.
This is a fantastic tale, told with personality and emotion, about a young man who ends up immersed in the culture of the Silk Road and his efforts to revive lost arts of carpet-making. But more than that, it's a social history of Uzbekistan and some of its neighbouring countries. You really get a sense of what it's like to live in a place like Khiva; the people, the buildings, the underlying - and sometimes overt - oppression. The only reason I'm not giving this 5 stars is because the Kindle version is missing any photos - which it seems are present in the physical editions - and because none of the Uzbek terms used are linked to the glossary. Why is the eBook treated as poor relation to the printed version, I'm not sure. Anywaay, I'm looking forward to a Tajik sequel.