Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The devastating dzud

I wrote in The Shadow Walker about the growing numbers in Mongolia abandoning the nomadic lifestyle for life in the city.  Here's an interesting piece from Transitions Online, a Czech journal covering developments in the post-communist countries.  It reports that 'hundreds of thousands of Mongolians...have been forced to abandon their nomadic herding life for an urban existence in recent years, crowding into Ulaanbaatar, which has doubled its population in less than 20 years.' 

The author adds that 'half of Mongolia's nearly 3 million people now live in the country's capital and other provincial centers', and links the changes to global warming as well as to social, economic and political developments in the country. And the dzud, in case you were wondering, are the 'fierce winter blizzards that sometimes cripple the country'.  The report recounts the story of Namdag, a herder, who 'once owned more than 100 horses, sheep, cows and camels. He lost 90 percent of his animals in the devastating dzud of 1999 and is now jobless. "Only the camels survived," he says.'

And yet some are keen to continue the nomadic life.  One herder Baasanjav is quoted as saying: "I'm not giving up this life...It makes me happy to be out here", adding that: "It's important that our children continue this tradition."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A full-scale assault on the rule of law - or anti-Mongol worms?

There's been a growing controversy in recent months about the Mongolian government's handling of the country's mineral assets.  As always, of course, much depends on your perspective.  Within Mongolia, some would argue that, if anything, the government should be doing much more to protect the country's interests (a topic I'll be touching on, incidentally, in the next Nergui book, The Outcast). 

Elsewhere, particularly in the US and Canada, some see the government's recent actions as worrying signs of a drift away from the kinds of 'Western' values that Mongolia has espoused since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This view has been succinctly expressed in a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal by the The Center for Individual Freedom - apparently a 'Constitutional and free-market advocacy organization with more than 250,000 supporters and activists' across the US - calling on George Bush and Condoleezza Rice to 'Send a Clear Message to Mongolia: Eliminate Corruption and Protect Private Property - Or Risk Losing U.S. Foreign Aid.'

As always, the full truth appears to be more complex than these partisan views might suggest - a not unfamiliar mix of principle, self/national interest and realpolitik.  Here's a fascinating account from Mongolia Web which summarises the original controversy, and then includes a highly detailed refutation (and I think it's detailed enough to count as a genuine refutation) by one Mendbayar Nyambuu.  Judge for yourselves.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cooked lamb head with vegetable garnish

Mongolia isn't traditionally known for its fine dining.  But it is now increasingly possible to find decent food, as this review from the UB Post indicates (although, as the writer admits, 'for foreigners the idea of lamb's head is less appealing'). 

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cutting Agatha's rope

Maxine Clarke, of the ever-excellent Petrona blog, has been good enough (in her comment on my posting below) to draw my attention to an article in the US Publishers Weekly about the current wave of British and Irish crime books being published in the US.  The article lists many luminaries from this side of the Atlantic, but finds time also to reference the forthcoming US publication of The Shadow Walker by Berkley Prime Crime.  The Shadow Walker also gets a nice mention in this article from the US Library Journal

All of which also gives me the only excuse I need to mention that, following the publication of The Shadow Walker in August, Berkley Prime Crime will also be publishing The Adversary in the US in early 2009. 

Incidentally, as an aside, Maxine's current posting actually did make me laugh out loud.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mostly in the air, not on the table

...And here's a review of 'The Wonder of Mongolian Contortion' which I think speaks for itself.  Or, at least, I can't think of anything I'd want to add.

A Delicate Nuans

As I've mentioned once or twice before, writers like Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and John Connolly have opportunities to indulge their musical taste through recondite musical references in their books.  I have little chance to do this because Mongolian taste in popular music tends to be - well, idiosyncratic.  Here's another example, a review from the UB Post of the band Nuans.  I've not heard Nuans, but, on the strength of this review, I want to.

'Have you ever anticipated what a bunch of sappy pop hits would sound like if given the opera treatment in Mongolia by a trio of gentlemen?' asks the reviewer.  Well, no, since you ask.  But it's difficult to resist the idea of a band whose repertoire ranges from Ave Maria to Abba, or from the opera Carmen to Eric Carmen. 


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bad news, good news

Sad to see that the global hike in the price of basic foodstuffs has now begun to affect Mongolia.  But here's a more encouraging feature from Forbes magazine. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lunacy, politics and war

From the Daily Telegraph, a review by Simon Sebag Montefiore of James Palmer's The Bloody White Baron, a biography of the extraordinary Baron Ungern-Sternberg - rightly described by Sebag Montefiore as a 'meteoric nutter'.  Ungern-Sternberg's story is concisely summarised in the book's synopsis:

'Roman Ungern von Sternberg was a Baltic aristocrat, a violent, headstrong youth posted to the wilds of Siberia and Mongolia before the First World War. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Baron - now in command of a lethally effective rabble of cavalrymen - conquered Mongolia, the last time in history a country was seized by an army mounted on horses. He was a Kurtz-like figure, slaughtering everyone he suspected of irreligion or of being a Jew.'  Unsurprisingly, his reign was short-lived. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Dul Hotel in Moron

Fascinating account from the UB Post of a visit to the Tsaatan  or reindeer people in northern Mongolia.  And if anyone else out there ever stays at the Dul Hotel in Moron, please could you send me a postcard?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Fab Four, a wall and a boy with a guitar in his hand

And on an even more surreal note, I had to check that this story wasn't published on 1 April.  It wasn't, so one has to presume that it's true.  And it leaves me wondering whether Democratic Party member E.Bat-Uul, referenced in the article, became an enthusiast for the Fab Four because of his name, or whether he changed his name to reflect his enthusiasm. 

Saxual healing

No - not a typo.  From the ever fascinating UB Post, an account of an exhibition at the Mongolian Children's House of Creativity (now there's a concept we might think about borrowing) which reads almost like a fable by Borges or Calvino. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ghosts and small earthquakes

Sorry - been a little quiet on here over the last couple of weeks, partly because I've been away for a week enjoying the rural splendors of Herefordshire.  A perfect opportunity to catch up on the latest Merrily Watkins book, The Fabric of Sin, by my Quercus stablemate, the excellent Phil Rickman.  I've been saving up this one since it's also partly about another enthusiasm of mine, M R James, and it seemed right to read it while staying in Ms Watkins's home territory.  And quite superb it is, possibly the best in the series to date, which is saying something.  Last Friday, because I had to catch an early train to London, I ended up walking through the fog-bound streets of historic Ledbury at 6.30am - which would have been an atmospheric enough experience even without the book fresh in my mind. 

Meanwhile, the political world trundles on with consequences great and small.  Here's one of the smaller ones.  The last sentence perhaps gives a clue as to why Mongolia should share some fellow-feeling with Monaco.