22.10.14

Wojciech Jagielski - Towers of Stone (Wieże z kamienia)

Rating 7.0

This book begs for patient readers and plenty of spare time.
True, I have much of the latter at the moment, but lately I'm not focused enough on my reading to appreciate such a complex and in-depth narration of the Chechen wars.

The point is that Wojciech Jagielski turned out to be very demanding with his readers here. You cannot simply leaf through Towers of Stone casually with your pencil underlining selected passages as if you're reading your average good Polish reportage.
Unlike most of the Polish reporters I read so far, Mr Jagielski doesn't just provide short but significant episodes written in a sparse but brilliant language. No. He deals with a complex and ever detailed narration which gives you no time at all to take a breather.
Don't even think to read this book taking long intervals inbetween (as I did) for you will soon lose your track.

Let's examine the structure of Towers of Stone. Three-hundred and ten pages subdivided into merely four chapters each one named after a season. This means that each proper chapter is around 75 pages long. In my humble opinion, it would be hard to read your way safely through such a bundle in a novel. Not to mention facing chapters of 75 pages each in a reportage book due to the readers being accustomed to the nifty format provided by journalistic accounts on websites and magazines.

All this preamble to say that - to be completely honest with you - I struggled to finish Towers of Stone. Suffice is to say that it took me nearly one month. True, I reckon how Wojciech Jagielski did his reporting job quite well never leaving the reader in the dark and explaining all that needed to be clarified. Nonetheless, now that I'm done with this book I cannot really say that the whole Chechen mess is much clearer into my mind than it previously was.

You'll find great and insightful interviews with Chechen leaders whose beliefs and behaviors are masterly portrayed by the author. But instead of being given the precious room of their own they deserve, these gems are all semi-hidden here and there in the monster-sized chapters and thick narrative of this book. And that's a pity.

The fact that the American publisher Seven Stories Press which translated Wieże z kamienia into English - to their merit - left out any relevant maps or timeline to contextualize this book didn't help either. All that you'll find to guide you through is just a tiny glossary with a few dozen brief bios of the main characters and a page which seems ripped off from an old school atlas.
But Mr Jagielski writes about so many events, places, people, political and military leaders - often related with one another - that I challenge you not to lose your compass more than once.

I admit my defeat here.
I should have read Towers of Stone with less superficiality and less distractions around me. Now that I know what to expect from Mr Jagielski, I will give his book on Uganda a chance only when I'm confident I can read it all in one go.

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