The Spirit Wrestlers: A Russian Odyssey – Philip Marsden

I started this yonks ago, before my trip to Libya I think, but had to return it to the library half read. Finally getting it out again over Christmas, and the second half was as fascinating as the first. Philip Marsden writes about his travels to and through the Caucasus in search of spirit-wrestlers (a Russian religious sect exiled to the Steppe), but mainly meeting nth generation descendants of Russian dissidents transported to the frontier of Empire/Union and left to fend for themselves, or not. Not all of those descendants sounds like they’ve going to survive much longer following the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of despair and alcoholism.

But that makes it sounds like a depressing book, and it’s not. It’s a fascinating account of another of those parts of the world that always seem to form the fringes of Empire, and yet have much to offer in their own right. Indeed, increasingly, this is an area that demands our attention – conflict in Georgia, breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (did you know that a whacking great mountain range divides North and South Ossetia?) … not to mention oil, gas and US foreign policy. link: The Spirit Wrestlers: A Russian Odyssey

The Crossing Place: A Journey Among the Armenians – Philip Marsden

A fascinating account of the Armenian people – their history, language and lands.

Philip Marsden’s personal quest to understand the Armenian dispora takes him from the Near/Middle Eastern lands of Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, along to the Eastern European lands of the Black Sea and finally into the Caucasus and modern-day Armenia.

Sounds a dry as dust? It isn’t. The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians – Philip Marsden