Ed Morris

Early in his political ascent, Russian president Vladimir Putin floated the idea of giving his New Year’s Eve address live at midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones. Despite his obvious energy and the rapidity of air flight, the stunt never happened. But it did give authors Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler the idea for this book. Could they discover the “soul” of this massive nation by visiting cities in each zone, zigzagging leisurely from Kaliningrad on Russia’s western edge to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East? Both writers bring a good deal of useful background to their journey. Khrushcheva is the great-granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Tayler lives in Moscow, is married to a Russian and has written of his earlier travels across the country.

If Russia has a soul—an irreducible essence—it may well be its ambivalence about its place in the world, its simultaneous admiration and resentment of the more developed (and more decadent) West. It often mimics what it publicly deplores. In spite of Russia’s much-touted embrace of capitalism, vestiges of its communist past are everywhere. Virtually every town has a Lenin statue. A more sanitized version of Stalin also surfaces here and there. Russians, the authors contend, subscribe to the “great man” theory of history, believing that strong rulers, rather than changing circumstances, “determine the course of events.”

Throughout this chronicle, there are vivid descriptions of the climate, monuments and apparent public mood in each place the authors visit, along with interviews. Oddly, however, there is no discussion of the media—what the newspapers and magazines are saying (or not saying), what’s popular on television or how local and national news is conveyed and received. Despite Russia’s rough spots, the authors conclude, “People are, as a rule, living better than ever before, freer than ever before.”

Early in his political ascent, Russian president Vladimir Putin floated the idea of giving his New Year’s Eve address live at midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones. Despite his obvious energy and the rapidity of air flight, the stunt never happened. But it did give authors Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler the idea for this book. Could they discover the “soul” of this massive nation by visiting cities in each zone, zigzagging leisurely from Kaliningrad on Russia’s western edge to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East?

Using the wildly diverse 4,300-mile South American mountain chain as a backdrop, filmmaker and writer Kim MacQuarrie revisits the triumphs and depredations of such varied figures in the region as Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, drug cartel chief Pablo Escobar, Machu Picchu “discoverer” Hiram Bingham and the ever-mythic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 

But MacQuarrie is no hit-and-run chronicler cherry-picking fables. He immerses himself in the territory he’s been exploring since the late 1980s, when he first journeyed to Peru to interview imprisoned members of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. His account of how Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán was finally run to ground is both a rousing good yarn and a case study in political error.

The author shows that Guevara’s undoing was an instance of revolutionary fervor overriding common sense. He brings fresh details to the narrative by tracking down the teacher who fed and conversed with Guevara in the hours before a Bolivian soldier executed him.

Although famous names provide much of the material in Life and Death in the Andes, they occupy only a part of MacQuarrie’s attention. He also delves into local cultures, explaining, for example, how an American helped found a thriving cooperative that rekindled interest in traditional Peruvian weaving. He retraces Darwin’s steps on the Galápagos Islands and travels to the tip of the continent to meet the last speaker of the once flourishing Yamana Indian language, destroyed by the ravages of colonialism. MacQuarrie is a master storyteller whose cinematic eye always shines through.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Using the wildly diverse 4,300-mile South American mountain chain as a backdrop, filmmaker and writer Kim MacQuarrie revisits the triumphs and depredations of such varied figures in the region as Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, drug cartel chief Pablo Escobar, Machu Picchu “discoverer” Hiram Bingham and the ever-mythic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

What would the fallout be if someone could prove that the modern state of Israel is in the wrong place that it occupies a territory far distant from the one divinely promised the Jews and specified in the original version of the Old Testament? What if the historical Israel had actually been located in what is now Saudi Arabia? Would the revelation of these facts inevitably bring the always bubbling Mideast to a full boil? It is around these potentially apocalyptic prospects that Steve Berry weaves The Alexandria Link. His premise is that the contents of the fabled Library of Alexandria including the Old Testament still exist at a secret site, the whereabouts of which have been made known only to a succession of wise and deserving scholars. So now the race is on to find the library, with one faction intent on exposing Israel's tenuous historical hold on the land.

To play out this adventure, Berry brings back characters he introduced in The Templar Legacy. Chief among these are Cotton Malone, the retired government spook; his former boss, Stephanie Nelle; and the beautiful but deadly Cassiopeia Vitt, who functions here as Nelle's guardian angel. There are so many doublecrosses it practically takes a scorecard to keep track of them. Breathlessly paced, The Alexandria Link is a wonderful dramatic ride.

What would the fallout be if someone could prove that the modern state of Israel is in the wrong place that it occupies a territory far distant from the one divinely promised the Jews and specified in the original version of the Old Testament? What if the historical Israel had actually been located in what […]

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