Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist

Daniel Kalder, Author
Daniel Kalder, Author . Scribner $13 (275p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8994-8
Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-7432-9350-1
Paperback - 315 pages - 978-0-571-22780-8
Paperback - 333 pages - 978-0-571-22781-5
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When Halder tells a passenger on a train to Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, that he and his friends are just tourists, she's convinced he's either stupid or lying. After all, who would willingly visit what turns out to be "a fairly sleepy provincial Russian city distinguished by a big mosque" and a McDonald's? But Halder, a Scottish writer living in the former Soviet Union, is fascinated by the rundown "pseudo-countries" we never hear about in the news, believing them to be symbolic of all humanity. His "appetite for black holes" eventually leads to further travels in Kalmykia, Mari El and Udmurtia. Unfortunately, while his rhetorical enthusiasm remains strong throughout, a certain repetitiveness creeps in. Halder wanders around the depressingly grim surroundings, cobbles together whatever cultural facts he can find online and has mostly frustrating encounters with the locals ("I don't much like talking to people"). And while his real-life misadventures, like a visit to a sacred pagan grove with a high priest he meets through a mail-order bride distributor, are outlandish enough, he still engages in distracting fabrications and daydreams. Halder's refusal to set himself up as an international expert is admirable, but his depiction of the remote republics of a "shadow Europe" remains uneven. B&w photos throughout. (Aug.)

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