Former Time magazine writer Steavenson hits upon a nice variation to the armchair travel genre with this wonderful little book on the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Rather than trying to systematically detail the small country's tangled web of ethnicities and chaotic recent history, she recounts her time there through twenty chapters/stories. These loosely connected and loosely chronological stories provide a remarkably nuanced portrait of a country where nothing works, government seems largely irrelevant, and the people are remarkable. Weaving in many of her own friendships and a relationship with a photojournalist, she covers rigged elections, ethnic tensions, the nearby war in Chechnya, and mainly daily life with remarkable sensitivity. The nice thing is that she doesn't do so with the usual world-weariness of the foreign corespondent, but with a depth of feeling that never falls into sentimentalism or condescension It's a curiously individual work in that there's no real reason for her to be there, there is no larger theme she hangs her stories on, and no gimmicks. Just honest stories about a country where a strange civil war and two secessionist wars over the last decade have utterly destroyed the economy and left the country with little hope. A definite must read for anyone interested in the Caucuses or the fate of post-Soviet republics.
on 1 August 2002
I read "Stories I Stole" last weekend and haven't enjoyed a book so much since Tony Hawkes' "Playing The Moldovans At Tennis". But, while Hawkes used a silly drunken bet as the supposed premise of his comically contrived mission (you don't have to be much of a cynic to guess that his real reason for travelling to Moldova to write a best-seller), Steavenson seems to have had only a sense of world-weariness as her reason for choosing to go and live in Georgia.
"Bored young woman visits obscure country" may not be the most promising scenario for any book, but SIS somehow avoids the sentimentality or condescension of much travel writing. It's also a step or two removed from the travelogue/humour genre: for the most part, Georgians come across not as "funny foreigners" so much as friends and neighbours who are getting on with their lives, often in circumstances that happen to be highly bizarre.
Georgia being the enigma that it is, there was no shortage of good stories for Steavenson to tell about it. She recounts them well - observing one, taking note and then moving on to the next. The effect's highly satisfying, and she artfully wraps up the book by drawing as inconclusive a conclusion as the subject deserves. My one little complaint about the book is that I think she might've got more mileage out of the "thousand red roses" episode. Mind you, she would have had to try really, really hard...
on 3 December 2003
I've been living in Georgia for most of the last year and, well, these stories tell what it's like living here, both the good bits and the bad bits. The book is very well written and really captures the spirit of the place, partly because the author doesn't bother trying to impose a structure on a country that doesn't have one.
If you want a comprehensive history or academic analysis of Georgian politics, turn elsewhere. But if you enjoy a fantastic read full of good stories about a crazy place, look no further.
on 31 January 2002
An excellent book, the ultimate introduction to
the Caucasus, written in laughter and pain. Ms Steavensons personal involvment makes the stolen stories her own. Looking forward to more stories to come. "A thousand roses, a thousand stories".
Tbilissi, Georgia, 31.1.2002 Giorgi Shamilov
on 2 December 2016
I'm not used to writing reviews of books - I don't think I've very good at it frankly, so please excuse this somewhat...
I had to leave a review for this though. About a year ago I learned of Georgia and it's history and was consumed by curiosity. I began buying books to read on the country, which I've still to visit (in the next year hopefully!). I waded through 'The Caucasus' by Thomas de Waal which is great and very detailed, but a bit dense for my morning commute and not very personable.
This, however, is a wonderful and fascinating account of a female American journalist who lived in and reported on Georgia presented as a collection of separate but connected stories. I found this equally as informative as the book by Thomas de Waal, and it covered what I was really wanting to learn about Georgia - it's people and their stories, and what day-to-day life is like.
I can't recommend this highly enough. I found by chance through Amazon's recommendations and I feel so fortunate I did. This definitely hasn't received the recognition it deserves (yet, hopefully!).
on 18 July 2002
In Stories I Stole, Ms. Steavenson captures the heart and vitality of a nation riding the highs and lows of life to its fullest.
The Caucasus has for many years been obscured by Russia, its larger neighbor to the North and has been virtually ignored in a global sense since the breakup of the former USSR.
In the dawning of an era, Ms. Steavenson captures the livelihood of a people living and loving life to its fullest under conditions which denote centuries past. Camping in Tbilisi without electricity, Ms. Steavenson captures the passions of a people who so warmly embraced and shared with her their worlds.
Ms. Steavenson concludes with a Cliff-Note text on the various ethnicities and countries composing the Caucasus, providing the reader a very concise, but adequate knowledge of the region.
Each of the twenty chapters provides sufficient character development to provide the basis for a book of its own. Although a bit curt in structure, readers will find this an easy read and one that they can't put down!
A vivid and true portrait of the everyday ups and downs riding a roller coaster ride in a nearly forgotten world.
on 1 October 2003
‘Stories I Stole’ is a wonderfully, rich, human account of Wendell Steavenson’s experiences of life in the former Soviet state of Georgia. In contrast to many travelogues in which the author will pass through their chosen lands and cast only the traveller’s eye over their experiences and those they meet, Steavenson’s story is of one who lived, suffered, enjoyed and embraced the time she spent amongst Georgia’s varied peoples.
Travelling to Georgia on a whim born of a “reservoir sunk deep out of explanation”, Steavenson soon establishes herself among a Tbilisi community struggling with the legacy of communism and the broken dreams of the new capitalist order, in which such basic blessings as a few hours’ electricity supply are rarities to be treasured. The contemporary regional political context in which Steavenson tells engaging tales of lavish hospitality, duels between friends and Chechen and Abkhaz rebellion is explored in satisfying depth, the author painting a clear picture (or as clear a picture as can be painted) of the current status of Georgian, Armenian, Azeri and Chechen politics. Extensive travelling around the Caucasus and Georgia’s varied regions, along with a concise (if occasionally rather subjective) ‘Ethnic Glossary’ illustrate the diverse and rich ethnic mix which has bred much of the political instability so tragically prevalent in the region.
Whilst Georgian history in its pre- and post-Soviet guises is outlined in the appropriate detail, Steavenson does somewhat neglect the Soviet period, barely mentioning Georgia’s most infamous son (Stalin) beyond a brief appearance in an anecdotal prologue. The opportunity to convey the Georgian view of this most contentious of historical figures is thus largely missed.
‘Stories I Stole’ is a warm, honest and compelling account of life in a state whose existence is barely acknowledged by those beyond her own region, and should prove immensely enjoyable not just to those with an interest in the Caucasus but indeed to those with an interest in human nature itself.
on 13 May 2006
I spent six years working in Georgia as a banking expert on behalf of the European Commission. In June 2002 I was kidnapped and held for five months in difficult circumstances - four months in a small underground cell with no light, chained and padlocked and unable to move. I was rescued and returned home to the UK in November 2002. The time spent by Wendell Steavenson in Georgia overlapped woth my time there and her description of the people and their attitudes and mentality, the environment in which we both lived and worked and the overwhelming stench of corruption and cronyism in which the Government of Georgia thrived pressed many of my buttons. I would dearly wish to contact Wendell (I believe I met her briefly in Georgia.
on 15 August 2002
Exciting for me to discover a book that is so direct, honest and brilliantly observed. If you have ever travelled, you'll appreciate it's style, which manages to convey what it is really like to visit a place, both the exciting and the banal. And anyone with an interest in the trans-Caucasus, or in the death-throws of the Soviet Union, will be gripped.
on 16 May 2015
Brilliant. I travelled in Georgia while I read this and it really helped to inform the trip and is also the best travel writing I've read for some time. Highly recommended for anyone going to Georgia to understand the post independence years and for anyone who just enjoys really well crafted and well written travel writing. Only given it 5 stars as I can't give it 6.