cover image The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War

The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War

Asne Seierstad, , trans. from the Norwegian by Nadia Christensen. . Basic, $25.95 (340pp) ISBN 978-0-465-01122-3

In this searing journey through a traumatized Chechnya, two children orphaned by the civil war—Timur, a violent street urchin, and his sister Liana, a waif molested by her uncle who becomes a kleptomaniac—symbolize their country's agony, abandonment and lingering dysfunctions. Norwegian journalist Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul ) includes them in a gallery of portraits drawn from her reporting—sometimes undercover—from the region. These include a kindly childless woman who runs Grozny's last orphanage; a Russian soldier suffering from brain damage caused by a rebel mine; survivors of Stalin's expulsion of the Chechens to Kazakhstan in WWII; and a family whose daughter joined an Islamist sect and died in the spectacular terrorist takeover of a Moscow theater. Even more disturbing is her chilling, absurdist depiction of the regime of Moscow-backed Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, which combines torture and disappearances with a saccharine cult of personality. (One of Kadyrov's youth groups distributed roses on his behalf to every woman in Grozny.) There are many victims but few heroes; the author finds chauvinism and Islamist misogyny to be among the reliable reflexes of the dispossessed in this wounded society. Seierstad's vivid, unsparing reportage makes this distant tragedy very personal. (Sept.)