Åsne Seierstad - The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya
From the bestselling author of the - extremely overrated - The Bookseller of Kabul, comes this book about Chechnya.
The Angel of Grozny is much better than what Seierstad wrote (and thought to see) about life in Kabul, but is still affected by the same cons.
Here we have a young and undoubtedly talented journalist who is not content of being a reporter but would rather like to be a writer, a storyteller.
And Åsne Seierstad does have the gift of writing some touching and beautiful descriptions here and there. The author is certainly able to use some powerful, effective and evoking imagery, but perhaps Miss Seierstad should ask herself what kind of books she aims to deliver.
Does Åsne want to write a journalistic first handed account about the time she spent in turbulent Chechnya and how she felt while reporting from there? Very well: a good half of The Angel of Grozny is about this and it works.
Does Åsne want to put herself in the shoes of Chechen people and tell us their personal sad but defiant stories on a second handed account using a hint of imagination to fill the gaps? Less appropriated but fine: the weaker chapters of this book are about this.
Does Åsne want to tell us the reason why Chechnya became such a mess at the end of the 1990s and a puppet autonomous republic later on interviewing the likes of local despot Ramzan Kadyrov, taking us in the cleansed streets of Grozny and in a Russian Court Hall? That's wonderful: the best bits of her book here are about this.
But how can you mix these three books up in a single one? And, above all, is this a good and right choice? I believe it's not, but I may be wrong.
I really enjoyed the pages in which Miss Seierstad left her need of identify herself and sympathize with the unfortunate Chechen people she wrote about to focus on what really happened around her.
There are excellent pages of good honest journalism here and, in my humble opinion, they succeed in portraying the drama of Chechnya in a far better way than those chapters in which the author tried to see things with Chechen eyes.
I think that spending a few weeks in Grozny was very brave of Åsne Seierstad but was also not enough time for being able to grasp how local people feel, think, breath, live. A journalist is not an anthropologist and anthropologists themselves can get only a superficial view on the life of people they spent years with.
I'm pretty sure Åsne Seierstad is well aware of this.
The thing is that stressing out the emotional connections, stimulating the self-identification of the readers with the characters they read about sells good.
And titling this book "The Angel of Grozny" is all but a coincidence. Angels sell splendidly. War does not.