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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
21

on 1 July 2017
I came to this book after listening to a podcast on Chechnya given by Seans Russia Blog (excellent by the way, and the Chechnya episode is superb especially the character analysis of Kadyrov ) and found it excellent supplementary material. Highly recommended or should I say essential if you wish to understand the region. I couldn't put it down. Seierstad is an absolute rarity amongst journalists having the ability to seemingly integrate into any situation quite naturally (and often fearlessly I suspect, immensely brave).

Note. Some of it is =immensely= sad and even though I have lived many years in Russia I found a lot of it simply quite shocking, although this book is ten years old (2007) I am not sure much has changed today, it is an absolute tragedy.
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on 21 October 2014
I must buy some more books by this intelligent, sensitive woman. And brave! A fantastic, dark tale, told by people from all sides. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the region. And for those not sure, it will draw you in, make you a Seierstad fan and get you interested in Chechnya, Russia and that whole part of the world.
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on 5 August 2017
What a mess. A thoroughly interesting account by an amazing investigative reporter and author.
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on 10 June 2015
Intelligent and impartial account which has you gripped from the start.
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on 21 July 2015
Reqjuired reading
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on 28 June 2017
Asne Seierstad was a freelance journalist in Moscow when the first Chechen war broke out. Acting under a poorly-understood compulsion to find out what was really going on there, she sweet-talked her way onto a military transport plane and ended up in Grozny. She spent several months during the first war, and again during the second war, slipping around Chechnya, often disguised as a Chechen woman in order to avoid attention and get into places foreigners were forbidden to enter, so she could interview people touched by the conflict. Hosted by Hadijat, a woman running an unofficial orphanage in Grozny, she focuses heavily on the stories of women and children, but also speaks with others, including a couple of encounters with Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's infamous president. The result is a fascinating book in which interviews and Seierstad's personal experiences are woven into a more or less coherent narrative.

Seierstad's own story is riveting: she makes no claims to heroism, but she is obviously a tough and determined reporter, who doesn't hesitate to visit taboo families, such as the relatives of resistance fighters and even participants in the Dubrovka siege, or to ask Kadyrov probing questions, which he sidesteps with stunning barrages of word salad. The picture she paints of Chechnya's current leader is grim: while she is slightly more sympathetic than, say, Politkovskaya, mentioning how he sits there doodling flowers with faces and looking sheepish when she asks tough questions, the ultimate impression is of someone utterly unsuited to uphold the dignity of office he represents, and who can't even sit still and speak in complete, coherent sentences, let alone tell the truth. The allegations of misconduct against Kadyrov are graver than those aimed at the US's own Donald Trump, but in character, they seem worrisomely similar. But enough about that.

A fluent Russian speaker and originally well-disposed towards Russia and Russians, Seierstad finds herself becoming increasingly appalled by the excesses inflicted by her adopted country on this tiny nation. At the same time, Chechnya and the Chechens are hardly angels themselves: Seierstad recounts horrifying stories of abuse, in which husbands attack their wives, men rape their children, brothers kill their sisters, and Chechens commit dreadful crimes against other Chechens. Giving Chechens more control, in the form of the Kadyrovtsy, has had nasty side effects: under the guise of returning to their Chechen roots, the government has instigated widespread oppression of women, and people suspected of Wahhabism are grabbed off the street, tortured, and sometimes disappeared. All it takes is for a man to wear his hair slightly too long at the back for him to be whisked away, perhaps never to return; women have it even harder in some ways, since they are now forced to wear headscarves and dress modestly, but dressing TOO modestly and covering up TOO much of their hair can be taken as a sign of Wahhabism. The book came out ten years ago, but if anything it seems that the situation in Chechnya has only gotten more dire, something the book foreshadows: it ends, not with a happy story of rehabilitated orphans, but on a warning note: Hadijat's orphanage is in danger of being shut down, and some of her children are totally out of control, enraging and endangering the others as they act out as a result of the trauma they have suffered.

One thing all of the disparate writers I've read on this and other wars agree about is that war reveals whatever a person's true character is, showing both their strengths and their weaknesses. Reading this book, I was struck by how true this seems not just for individuals, but for nations. Seierstad's book uncovers some of the pathologies at the heart of both Russia and Chechnya (are they one nation or two? Both, it seems). Caught up in a sick, co-dependent relationship, both nations have retreated into nationalism and attempts to preserve their heritage in the face of external attack. Unfortunately, the parts of their heritage they are trying to preserve are often the very things they should be most eager to throw away. Seierstad chronicles the rising xenophobia of Russian young men, who horrify their grandparents, survivors of WWII, by tattooing swastikas on their bodies, and records how young Chechen men retreat from their problems by attacking women--sometimes verbally, sometimes physically--and torturing dogs. Sometimes nations respond to a terrible self-inflicted trauma by learning from it as they attempt to rise from the ashes: think Germany after WWII, or Rwanda after the massacres of the 1990s. The Chechen wars could have had the same effect on Russia and Chechnya, but they have not. Perhaps they were not traumatic enough (easy to believe for Russia; harder for Chechnya), or perhaps both nations have enough grievances against the other to avoid looking their own flaws square in the face, preferring instead to point fingers and lay blame everywhere but where it lies. What will happen in the future is anyone's guess, but "The Angel of Grozny" does not give much hope for improvement any time soon, and neither do events since the book was published.

"The Angel of Grozny" is not a light read, but it is informative and compelling. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Chechnya, the Chechen wars, or post-Soviet Russia, or if you're just looking for a book by and about women affected by war.
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on 7 February 2015
Fast delivery.Well worth reading
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 September 2014
An excellent look at the tragedy that is Chechnya, as the author moves through the country, meeting families with missing sons, traumatized children being cared for by the eponymous 'angel', and even the president himself.
The trouble between Russia and this republic dates back into ancient times: Tolstoy served here, fighting local rebels. More recently the hatred felt by the Chechens for Russia was fanned by the policy of moving whole villages of Chechens to live in the wilds of Kazakhstan. And as one reads of the destruction, the brutal killings and beatings by Putin's men, one feels utter sympathy for Chechnya.
And yet the author presents a balanced picture: the Russian soldiers, young conscripts straight out of school, killed or horrifically maimed by Chechen landmines. Perceived 'special treatment' of Chechen migrants to Moscow - infuriating the Russians.
And the issue of Islamic fundamentalism, which was starting to figure in the Chechens' reason for making war on their neighbor....Does Putin have reason for his iron control over the republic?
Not a book with any answers, but extremely informative and readable.
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on 29 May 2009
It's refreshing to come across a book written by an author from another country/culture ( outside of the usual Anglo-American fraternity ) about a someplace else that does not feature in our daily discourse, yet reads effortlessly when rendered into English. Seierstad brings Grozny alive, adding bold brushstrokes of colour to the otherwise monochrome, monolithic vision many of us hitherto had of modern Russia. For me, the focus of the story was not the eponymous Angel, rather Grozny itself and crucially, Seierstad's interaction with it and its suffocating bear of a brother. I heard her speak at the Hay Festival a couple of years ago, and she struck me as intelligent, brave and sincere. If I were to pick fault, and I were to put my super-ultra-unfairly-cynical hat on, maybe the story is a little too much a vehicle for Seierstad herself.

There are some shocking and upsetting incidents described, so be warned. Indeed, if i remember correctly the opening is uber-Dickensian in its depictions.

If I could, I'd give the book a 4.5.
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on 13 May 2010
This book brings into sharp focus the human condition; the fact that we are capable of the very best and, unfortunately, the very, very worst. It is an easy to digest, and very stark, reflection of a conflict brought about not only by the Great Mother Russia, but by a society that is so battered and traumatised that it is consuming itself.
Caught in the middle of the conflict, fuelled by the self interest of both the Russian Federation and Chechnyan Mafiosi, are survivors desperately trying to hang on to their humanity. Their everyday lives are beyond bleak but the author's often fleeting relationships with the ordinary, in the loosest sense of the term, people of Grozny does at least demonstrate that, even when all hope is lost, people do survive.
It is easy to read this book and lose a sense of reality, to forget that this isn't a fiction about boys killing dogs but about the violent transference of their very real suffering into an abhorent acts. The Angel herself is a voice in the wilderness, one of many trying to make sense of the conflict and oppression. Saving others seems to be the only way that she has of saving herself.
An excellent, but sometimes uncomfortable, read which will hopefully make the reader consider how lucky some of us are, but wonder how it is that some of us can treat one another in such appalling ways.
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