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Old 03-20-2014, 12:02 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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March 2014 Discussion: On the Trail of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the March 2014 MobileRead Book Club selection, On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope. What did you think?
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Old 03-20-2014, 12:07 AM   #2
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I think I'm still only 2/3 of the way through!
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Old 03-20-2014, 06:43 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
I think I'm still only 2/3 of the way through!
What with this or that it took Tim Cope much longer than he had ever anticipated as well.
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Old 03-20-2014, 09:26 AM   #4
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I'm about a 1/3 of the way through, and it is slow reading for me. Maybe I'll write a book: "Of the Reading of the book On the Trail of Ghengis Khan".

Is their going to be a quiz?
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Old 03-20-2014, 06:51 PM   #5
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Crimea

I am on the last chapter. The chapters on The Crimea do depict a horrible hostility between The Tartars and The Russians. Without The Ukrainians as peacekeepers I fear a horrible outcome in view of recent events.
I did read another book on this same journey by The American journalist, Jeffrey Taylor entitled "Murderers and Mausoleums" I found Taylor to be much more readable.
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Old 03-21-2014, 06:24 PM   #6
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obs20: That's not a Mark Twain quote in your signature, according to this.

That's all I have to contribute--I'm a slow reader and the book is too long! But your tie-in to current events will have me slogging further.
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Old 03-23-2014, 03:06 PM   #7
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Halleluiah, I'm no longer on the Trail of Genghis Khan. Three days into the discussion and I've finally finished it.

This wasn't the easiest book to read, but one I'm glad I did read, for it gave me a perspective I wouldn't have had otherwise into a totally foreign culture, a people who aren't a part of my everyday experience, and the daily struggles of people who have known Soviet domination and even today suffer discrimination from the current generation of Russians and others.

And please don't think I'm assuming the high road when I speak of the way some Russians discriminate against indigenous cultures. As a U.S. citizen, I'm well aware of our own shortcomings in respect to other cultures and even the discriminatory practices directed toward those indigenous peoples who were here long before Europeans claimed this land for King and Country.

This was an intense book.
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Old 03-23-2014, 06:58 PM   #8
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Despite its length, I found this book fascinating. I enjoyed the descriptions of the terrain and the people, and I was interested to read the history of the countries Tim traversed. Suddenly I felt I had some understanding of the current conflict over the Crimean Peninsula.

I have borrowed the DVD of this book from the local library, because I would like to actually see the landscapes Tim travelled through. (Coincidentally, I play in an orchestra which is currently rehearsing Borodin's "In the Steppes of Central Asia".)

The main thought which kept recurring as I read this book, though, was how glad I am that neither of my children ever undertook this sort of journey!
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Old 03-24-2014, 08:54 AM   #9
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I enjoyed this book a lot. Although I have traveled a lot, like others this was not an area of the world I was very familiar with. Both in terms of the geography of the Steppes and the people/history of land, I had a lot of learning to do. But beyond that I also really appreciated the attention paid to describing the needs of his animals and how any inattention to their needs could result in immediate precariousness.

I’m glad Tim made the journey because this is one of the few travel books I’ve read that left me with no desire to visit the places he went to. I feel no desire to experience the landscape he traversed or (and I am not one to usually feel this way) many of the people. The constant shadow of imminent threat to his animals and possessions, the many encounters with others perpetually impaired as they cope with how centuries-old ways of living have been destroyed and the way so many women are treated. It wore me out just reading about it. Like so many impositions that disrupt any people-group’s way of living, the results are always devastating. And if any responsibility is ever accepted on the part of those who destroy lifestyles they don’t understand, it’s way too late to matter.

Like others have indicated, I too was appreciative of some of the timely history provided regarding the Crimea. That has really helped to more fully grasp what is going on their now and how immoral this annexation really is. This is not the place to get too political, but Tim’s book provoked me to poke around a little further to gain some historical context to the current conflict and that too was helpful.
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Old 03-25-2014, 12:45 PM   #10
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I was actually left with the desire to see the landscapes described. Even what sounds unappealing can have its own beauty. I think that anyone who has driven across the Great Plains, or the salt flats just west of Salt Lake City, in the United States can attest to this. I don't think I would want to spend days (or weeks) traversing such landscape though.

When I read this book last November Crimea was not at all in the news. My interest at the time was a long fascination with Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire extending back to grade school. The description of conditions in the various countries that were formerly part of the USSR was telling and tragic.

The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, a book I read early last year, gives a first hand account of how the traditional culture of what is now Kazakhstan was destroyed under Stalin. Just in case anyone here is interested in reading up more about it all.

It really is tragic how the native peoples in these regions had a number done on them twice in less than a century. First under Russian socialism forced to abandon the way of life they had led for centuries and be forced into state controlled collectives, and then when adjusted to that, thrown into a western capitalism system and told Good Luck!
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Old 03-25-2014, 01:18 PM   #11
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I've been so busy traversing the American southwest that I'm less than half way through this book. The descriptions are so lovely to me that I've spent as much time searching out online photos of Mongolian steppes as reading. The landscapes described by the author probably wouldn't have appealed to me, either, until working for 8 years in Death Valley National Park. Slowly one starts to see and love subtle beauty, and the serenity of vast expanses seeps into your soul until nowhere is more beautiful. I was back in Death Valley most of last week and felt again that sense of deep peace that only comes when I am alone in some vast wilderness that feels somehow sacred.

I believe I could happily set off across Mongolia for weeks or months. However, I am an absolute realist after a lifetime of back country adventuring, so I realize that actually surviving it would be quite a feat for me. My admiration for Tim Cope is boundless.
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Old 04-22-2014, 09:42 AM   #12
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This was a terrific book, really almost a perfect amalgamation of depth, breadth and incident. It is a fascinating account of lands and history of which I'm lamentably ignorant and one of the best books I've read this year.

I don't have anything to add to the positive comments above with which I'm in entire agreement, so I'll mention my only quibble, that occasionally when Cope's personal life intruded, especially with the death of his father, I thought the loss of momentum was unfortunate even though it was intrinsic to his story. I've always liked travel narratives but I deplore the current trend where navel gazing is central to the account and the trip is almost incidental. I know I'm not being fair to Cope who wasn't guilty of this overall, and the death of a parent is both huge and clearly creates logistical issues. Just the same, I would have appreciated editing that section down and getting back to his journey in fewer pages.
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Old 03-04-2015, 01:26 PM   #13
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I enjoyed the book and found many parts of it fascinating, but I think it also suffered from being long-winded. I think a good editor might've helped.

Regardless, his journey was remarkable. He interested me in what I consider one of the less interesting landscapes of the world. His sheer enthusiasm and the epic and historical nature of his journey drew me in.

For the most part, I liked the beginning the best. Mongolia had the closest link to un-Sovietised and un-Europeanised culture. Similarly, I enjoyed the first half of the book better because he was still on the open steppe in cultures that still have some nomadic traditions left. Once in Russia and Europe, his trip changed somewhat dramatically to something that I felt didn't quite fit the spirit of his journey as well, though still illuminating at times in a different sort of way.

I finished the book some months ago, but I just finished watching the related documentary series which totals about three hours. It was scrappy and scruffy but very good. While the book has more depth, with the series I was able to see and hear things that were impossible through writing - the close-to-100-year-old woman singing a traditional song, the traditional art and clothing of the isolated village in the Ukrainian mountains, the traditional music played by family members in Mongolia, etc. - and so I found the book and series very complimentary.

There were a couple of things that struck me in the documentary. First is how much of a gentle and tender (and courageous) soul Tim is. It's striking, really. He has a soft-spoken manner and one thing I don’t remember being in the book is his love of full-body hugging his horses often, which entails him, from a standing position on the ground, putting his arms around a horse’s neck from the side, then putting a leg at the top of the horse near its hind legs with Tim being completely off the ground while length-wise on the side of the horse hugging it for awhile. Also for instance, as he rides his horses the short distance to the final destination where the trip will be over, he starts bawling.

Second - the liberties taken with the truth, or rather omissions of the truth. In the series he claims he starts off alone, though we know from the book he starts off with his girlfriend who is entirely omitted from the documentary. Though news of his father's death and his subsequent pause from the trek is shown (the clip of Tim crying at the news is actually shown multiple times as a dramatic selling point, which I found slightly distasteful actually, especially considering the amount of other things altogether left out of the time-limited series), his pause to take a trip to I think it was the UK to accept an award was completely omitted. His fleeting romance with the girl in I think it was Kiev or somewhere thereabouts is omitted. Overall though, these are only minor things that don't really affect the truth of his journey.
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