- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1211 KB
- Print Length: 430 pages
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005ME8XCQ
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #652,839 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Minsk Rises Kindle Edition
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A Soviet-Era dictatorship still exists in Belarus, with President Lukashenko's KGB taking care of dissent and his regime brooking no opposition to its economic directives or political direction. Under President Lukashenko, who has been continuously "re-elected" since 1994, politically-motivated arrests, surveillance programs, physical intimidation, and even the disappearances of key opposition figures keep the dictatorship strong and prevent the movement for a true democracy in Belarus from growing any muscle or power. Political relations between Belarus and western countries are tense, with both the United States and the European Union having issued sanctions against Lukashenko and his government, while to the east, Lukashenko leverages his control over oil pipelines to ensure his relationship with Russia.
The people of Belarus suffer under the despotic regime of Lukashenko not only for how it silences their political voice and kills their political will, but because the state-run economy can no longer provide many basic goods or products. In addition, any kind of cultural life is controlled through the government and interaction with the west is highly regulated. Computers are confiscated, websites shut down, and email services blocked to ensure total governmental control of information, and to keep the Belarusian people insulated and cut-off from the rest of the world.
I couldn't put my Kindle down while reading Minsk Rises, and alas, there is the rub: Minsk Rises is only available as an e-book. There is irony in the fact that a book about how easily electronic information can be monitored by a despotic government is itself only available electronically. In theory, a government can erase any book it doesn't like from the computers and e-readers that come under its control. In 2009, Amazon remotely removed a certain version of George Orwell's 1984 (more irony) from all Kindles when it was discovered that copyright was not effectively for that version. If a company can unilaterally remove entire texts from e-readers for reasons of copyright, a controlling government would have few qualms in doing the same for reasons of political and social control. I wonder if Doctor Zhivago, smuggled out of the USSR oh so many years ago as a fugitive manuscript, could have escaped successively to the west as an e-book, or if the black market copies of so many western greats that were smuggled from west to east could have made the journey electronically. If I were living right now in Minsk, could I download Minsk Rises to my Kindle?
I don't know the answer to that question, but I thank my lucky stars that I don't have to find out. I live here, and the download was easy, allowing me the thrills and pleasure of reading Minsk Rises. I will continue to hope for the day when Minsk rises under a new dawn, when the country of Belarus throws off the the shackles of Lukashenko, and when Belarus becomes a country where all books can be read without danger, all conversations held without fear, and all dreams worked for without obstruction.
Was I in for a surprise! Running---and fitness training in general---does indeed form an important part of the narrative, particularly in the portrayal of Russell Piper, one of the three main characters. But not in the way I expected at all! Almeida uses running for more than just action purposes. He also explores the motivation of the middle-aged male runner, and develops some corresponding philosophical angles that I'd never come upon elsewhere, let alone fiction. And he integrates both these reflections and the actual running scenes with the overall plot in a way that helps drive the story momentum. I won't give away the game, but suffice it to say that I found his take astonishingly creative. I couldn't stop reading!
Moreover all other facets of the book were first-class: the tight, evocative writing style, the character development and pacing, and the constant buzz of suspense. Some heavy-duty politics, but of timely variety: both on the current pro-democracy movement in Belarus (which I'd known little about beforehand), and the influence of the oil industry on global diplomacy. For me this was a plus. On these issues, Almeida obviously knows his material.
Are you a runner? Keen on international politics? If so, I suggest you download and read this book without further delay!
Therefore when I read a review of Eric Almeida's "Minsk Rises" in the Huffington Post some months ago---one that was highly favorable besides---I took particular notice. My recent summer recess from academic work finally allowed me the time to read it.
As someone with first-hand knowledge of Belarus and the wider Russian context which it inhabits, I can testify that Almeida provides sophisticated and accurate portrayals of the country's culture and people, the Lukashenko dictatorship, and the country's longstanding economic dependence on Russia. He does so, moreover, without resorting to overwrought explication, conveying these elements instead through the actions, dialogues and personalities of the characters, both Russian and American.
His most powerful voice in this regard is Lena Antonova, a young professor of English literature in Minsk and part-time English tutor of Evan Morris, an American and another main character in the story. Although I'm somewhat older than Lena, and born in the U.S., I identified with her closely as a fellow academic. Due to her ingrained and insistent bent toward free inquiry, she is particularly sensitive the suppression of intellectual freedom in Belarus, and serves as a poignant representative of broader, long-stymied aspirations of her fellow citizens.
Similarly, Almeida's depictions of the physical aspects of Minsk are authentic and full of nuance, without being overdone. I've gathered from his author's notes that he's lived in the city at length, and he has obviously been able to draw upon rich, up-close observation. This is not a book formulated from a distance; as a reader, you really sense as though you are on the ground.
Other reviewers have remarked upon the social commentary in the book, particularly the avant-garde sexual themes. I admit that I found the sexual material overly graphic and outrageous in the early chapters, but by the end---and especially afterward, upon reflection---I concluded that it serves deeper purposes and is far from gratuitous. Indeed, I commend Almeida for his innovative and daring interpretations on the questions he confronts.
I could elaborate on other facets of the book, but these are too varied and numerous for a short review. This in itself attests to the excellence and distinction of "Minsk Rises." For those with particular connections to Russia and Belarus and those without, it is an imaginative and outstanding work---an experience to seize and relish.
Despite its sharp political or international relations content, Minsk Rises approaches these issues with impeccable subtlety and simplicity. Throughout the narrative, we are invited into the minds, lives and challenges of three main characters: Russell Piper, a sensual, bright CIA spy; Evan Morris, a lanky and somewhat awkward American business man with hopeless Russian skills, and Lena Antonova, an intelligent, fierce Belarusian professor and private language tutor. These three lives come together as Morris innocently sees someone whose presence the Belarusian regime had kept, until then, as a national secret. Evan, Lena and Russell are connected by the usual practices of surveillance and monitoring by the Belarusian dictatorship, which brings the situation to a dangerous edge and implicates third, fourth and fifth parties in the crisis.
And crisis – or tension – might be, in fact, a key word for us to truly understand how author Eric Almeida slowly weaves the narrative thread in Minsk Rises. Political tension, intercultural tension, physical tension and sexual tension work together to introduce the reader to a world in which fear, over control and stagnancy dominate every aspect of life. As the plot thickens and the three characters find themselves in increasingly difficult situations, the reader can feel Minsk stiffen in tension. Elements of the city’s everyday landscape like statues, Ferris wheels, metro wagons, parks and lakes, become escape routes, hiding spots, and unlikely safe places. Lena and Evan’s inability to move their romantic lives forward—the dominant feeling of being (sometimes literally) “stuck” in Minsk may well be a useful way of bringing the reader one step closer to sense what it is like to live under a regime of exaggerated economic and political control. In that universe, something as innocent as picking berries in the countryside can cost someone’s life, and talking on the phone can be endanger your friends and family.
The lingering political tensions between East and West surpass the narrative line of Minsk Rises, as we begin to analyze the role of the author, an American writer who has lived a good portion of his life in Eastern Europe, and his specific point of view or subjectivity. Students of current affairs may be interested in discussing, for instance, some biases that may influence the way the story is told. Despite successfully highlighting a few contradictions between the American government’s rhetoric of global defender of individual freedoms and its aggressive practices towards domestic and foreign citizens, Almeida’s narrative still maintains the United States as a final “salvation” for all three characters. While the dictatorship in Belarus must be undoubtedly criticized, it is rather ironic that Washington—the same Washington that refuses to close Guantanamo, the same Washington that approved the Patriot Act—becomes the final destination for anybody fleeing Belarus.
In a slow pace, Minsk Rises can entertain both readers looking for an enjoyable, captivating story, and those trying to better understand the role of international relations and politics in works of fiction. I enjoyed reading it in both ways, and would definitely recommend it to others.
Minsk Rises is a suspenseful tour de force that is sure to keep you turning the pages as it unravels a thread of political intrigue, forming an ever increasingly tangled web of characters and consequences that culminate in an explosive climax of the highest stakes – international relations are on the verge of dissolving and governments stand to fall apart. The situation is so volatile that even nuclear war is feasible. However, as a reader, even greater a concern is of the fates of the characters who endear themselves early on and take center stage to the slow-burn plot.
Although the story line is intriguing and stands by itself, the characters and their respective arcs and intricacies are what really stood out to me. They live and breathe like real people and develop over the course of their own tribulations. Author Eric Almeida deftly transitions from one character to the next, seamlessly progressing the story one tantalizing bit at a time, leaving no room for dull moments or waning interest. The plot may unfold slowly from the start, but things do quickly ratchet up in intensity as more facets of the central crisis emerge and the plot thickens.
This novel stands as a love letter to Minsk and the Belarus region: it is beautifully portrayed and eloquently described, visually accessible to someone who has never been to there. To me, the best way to describe Minsk Rises is as a blend of House of Cards back channeling and Cold War era paranoia, played out on a stage of the smoldering remnants of the Iraq War and its shady political misconduct. If any of this is up your alley, or even if you just enjoy good thrillers, this book is for you.