Open Lands

Mark Taplin, Author Steerforth Press $29.5 (325p) ISBN 978-1-883642-01-3
Former foreign service officer Taplin, who now works for the U.S. Information Agency, turns incidental ports of call into exciting places of interest. Few readers will ever visit the area near the Arctic Circle he writes of here, whose cities and towns have been previously closed to outsiders--and not only because there are no roads. As readers of Solzhenitsyn will recall, this is the land of the gulags, and Taplin, through interviews with former zeks, or prisoners, conveys their gut-wrenching stories of brutality. Taplin relates the history of each place he visits, such as the Solovetskiy Monastery, one of the most sacred shrines in Russian Orthodoxy. For much of his journey he retraces the route of a 19th-century traveler, George Kennan, a forebear of the same-named Russian historian and one-time diplomat. Taplin's accommodations throughout his trip harken back to the Soviet era: in one city, his ""luxury penthouse suite"" was a third-floor walk-up without heat, towels, toilet seat or toilet paper. In Kamchatka, where Stalin's granddaughter, Katia, a geologist, lives (he didn't get to meet her), Taplin had a run-in with the police for ""violating the security of the Russian state"" by wandering too near a missile-tracking facility, but ultimately nothing came of the incident. The author emerges as so personable and reasonable that it's not surprising that many Russians, whose ""image of the enemy was the glue that held [the country] together,"" opened up to him. Having been posted to Russia from 1984 to 1987, and again in 1992, Taplin is keenly sensitive to the nuances of the post-communist country that he finds still ruled by graft, scarcity and maladroit service, while its citizens struggle to join tsivilizatsiya and live a normal life. Photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 376 pages - 978-1-883642-87-7
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