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Out of Steppe by Daniel Metcalfe

It may be a while till I can put anything on the November thread as I am reading this very interesting non-fiction account of Metcalfe seeking out 'lost peoples of Central Asia' - little pockets of odd populations in former parts of the USSR and Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Germans in Kazakhstan, Jews in Usbekistan, Hazaras in Afghanistan.  Their lives, often disconnected from their originating country but keeping to traditions that have long gone in the mother country, were fascinating, though often very distressing to read about.  Metcalfe does not resile from portraying the USSR and Stalin as cruel and tyrannical and particularly so towards small ethnic groups.

It is not a long book and is very interesting but it is packed with information that I am unfamiliar with, and a geography and history that I really don't know, so I taking this quite slowly.  

But well worth reading for anyone interested in anthropology, history, culture, traditions, mythology.  I find it very good indeed.  Little stories such as the one about the British Victorian missionary Joseph Wolff who sets off, at first with his wife and child and later on his own, to convert everyone from Islam to Christianity, and manages to come out alive, are told with good humour and compassion.  Wolff managed to offend everyone, Jew and Muslims, in Jerusalem and was asked to leave by the British consul.  He then headed to Bukhara, Uzbekistan to free two British soldiers but was too late.  He only survived by being so preposterously dressed and outrageously behaved that he made the emir laugh.  Several assassination attempts seemed to prove God was on his side and he lived out his life in Britain, returning to his long-suffering (and luckily wealthy) wife.

But there are numberous pictures of interesting people, usually ones Metcalfe met on his travels.  He must have a certain charm as people generally talked to him and welcomed him.  (One Jewish family, though were under a misapprehension - not getting much traction with the shy Jews, he pretended to be one and then had to cope with the guilt of his conscience when they offered him precious gifts.)

Well recommended.

Cheers, Caro.

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