The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 2 June 2004

Wild East

Travels in the New Mongolia

by Jill Lawless

In the early 1990s, the communist nation of Mongolia, squeezed between northern China and Siberia, followed many of its Eastern European comrades and embraced a democratic and capitalist social model. Relatively speaking, it was a smooth transition. Jill Lawless, a Canadian journalist, went to Mongolia's enigmatic capitol, Ulan Bataar, to work on the UB Post, one of the many new papers sprouting under new journalistic freedoms. She spent two years in Mongolia, and this book is her description of the country she found. The book is less a travel memoir than an overview of how Mongolia is facing modernization and reconnection with the outside world. This may be because of Lawless's journalistic perspective. Still, there are many small personal moments, such as her discovery of a genuine French café in a dusty corner of the capitol. She describes, though, many of the major changes the country was undergoing during her time there, as it pulled itself out from under 70 years of Soviet-style dominance. Capitalism is embraced with naive flair. The government tries to get the populace to adopt new surnames, and most select the surname of Ghengis Khan's clan. There are nomads and young hipsters. There are cattle rustlers and slick publishers. The book is rich with information and character. If you are considering visiting Mongolia, this may be a good place to start. It doesn't come off, though, as an intimate look at the people and place. The writing is a bit too direct and prosaic for that. Still, it is energetic and often very fascinating.

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