The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya - AbeBooks - Asne Seierstad:
Seierstad visits anyone with an extreme tale to tell who is not afraid to talk which excludes most of the population. She catalogues the nonsensical, quasi-Soviet prattlings of the new regime and even manages to get an audience with Chechnya's infamous President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is supported by Moscow and whose paramilitary force, the Kadyrovtsy, is accused of numerous human-rights abuses.
As a crash course on recent Chechen and Russian history, Seierstad's account is invaluable: she presents all the confusing contradictions of the conflict in a straightforward, accessible way, which is no mean feat. But unlike with The Bookseller of Kabul, an intimate look at a family at the heart of historical events, the aims of this book are not clear.
It's not a compelling 'personal meets political' narrative. Instead, it is a meandering collection of disparate stories, the 'angel' of the title appearing only intermittently. Then there is the 'imagined' quality of some of the passages, which raises the spectre of the fall-out over The Bookseller of Kabul. The original bookseller, whose family took in Seierstad for several months and agreed that she could write about them, accused her of slander and betrayal. He did not eventually pursue these claims, but the charge opened an important debate about non-fiction and how a reporter portrays what others are thinking and have experienced, especially when the subjects are from another culture and speak another language.
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Seierstad is a fluent Russian speaker, but many of the conversations in this book take place in Chechen. The bookseller's complaints came back to me as I read the first chapter of The Angel of Grozny, written in a 'faction' style. It describes the street life of a year-old boy who sees himself as 'a wolf' or, rather, the writer sees him as a wolf. It is told in language, idiom and images that no year-old boy could possibly have expressed: 'He was so thin that when he squatted to clean the bricks his bones stuck out like two points from the seat of his trousers.
From what vantage point is the writer speaking? She is describing a period in the boy's life long before she knew him. On the boy as a baby, she writes: 'Before he could walk he saw people stagger, fall and remain lying on the ground. Or is the writer just imagining what it must be like to be a baby in a war zone? Sometimes, the blurring of reportage and imagined scenes is uncomfortable. This is not to underestimate or disparage Seierstad's efforts.
ISBN 13: 9781844083961
To write this book was an extraordinarily brave endeavour, arguably far more dangerous than anything she has undertaken for her previous books on Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia. Throughout the text, Seierstad does not even seem fully to realise to what extent her life must have been at risk. On one occasion, she smuggles herself into Chechnya illegally. Or is the writer just imagining what it must be like to be a baby in a war zone?
The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya by Asne Seierstad
Sometimes, the blurring of reportage and imagined scenes is uncomfortable. This is not to underestimate or disparage Seierstad's efforts. To write this book was an extraordinarily brave endeavour, arguably far more dangerous than anything she has undertaken for her previous books on Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia.
Throughout the text, Seierstad does not even seem fully to realise to what extent her life must have been at risk. On one occasion, she smuggles herself into Chechnya illegally. This is either insane, extremely courageous or perhaps both. But although the stories Seierstad has found are moving and troubling, they are also, as a Russian traveller chides her on the train journey back to Moscow, simply stories of the dispossessed.
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Such people can be found everywhere in the world - it is when the events they recount can be shown to be systemic, repeated and sanctioned by those in power that they become a matter for outrage. This is the quality her book lacks. While Seierstad's Chechen narrators have tragic, brutal and shocking stories, their accounts are not cross-checked in any way, something Anna Politkovskaya did extensively in her work because she realised the word of one witness is not enough. You need several corroborative accounts of the same event.
Ideally, you need several people independently making similar statements. That is what made Politkovskaya's work so powerful. That said, Seierstad can get away with a lot because of the strength of her writing. She has a real eye for detail and the human heart of a story.
The book is at its most successful when she's describing what this journey is like for her personally; the time when she finds out that her mother has called her editor and asked him to pull her out of Chechnya he attempts to but she goes anyway , or the moment when she has to extricate herself from the clutches of a soldier dragging her into the woods, presumably to rape her. Ultimately The Angel of Grozny raises more questions than it answers.
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Sadly, it also lacks the intimacy that first made Seierstad's name. Topics History books The Observer. Reuse this content. Most popular.