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So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places    by Elinor Burkett order for
So Many Enemies, So Little Time
by Elinor Burkett
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It all began when Elinor Burkett took on an assignment as Fulbright Professor at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, once part of the Soviet Union. In So Many Enemies, So Little Time, she takes us along on her travels in this and other regions of Central Asia, 'laced with the aura of the Great Silk Road ... Alexander the Great ... Genghis Khan's hordes ... Tamerlane ... the Great Game'. Burkett observes an 'edgy confusion brewing wherever the tempo of progress ... failed to keep up with its promise, or was outpaced by the backlash against its unadvertized costs, a price exacted in the destruction of tradition and daily blows to identity.' In Bishkek, she takes on the challenge of teaching modern journalism in a country where the very concept of an objective press is alien. This has its amusing moments as when the author tells us her 'students showed less spunk than a herd of obstreperous yak lugging 1,000-pound yurts up the mountains.'

In November 2001, Burkett travels on assignment to Afghanistan, where she interviews professional women about the 'relentless war' waged against them by 'semiliterate zealots' (the Taliban). After three years confined to her home, Nadia (once a high school principal) lost the ability to walk from stress that acted 'like a slow poison'. The author sees Kabul as 'an almost primeval world where women never quite knew what unseen force might hit them.' When Burkett visits Iran, she finds a place which has combined religion and technology into a 'fundamentalist theme park'. There she learns of the popularity of 'hymen replacement' surgery among middle-class women. In Uzbekistan, a country basking in the reflected glory of Tamerlane, she visits a shelter for women so desperate that they 'doused themselves with kerosene, then lit a match.' In Turkmenistan, Burkett finds the ubiquitous cult of its leader Turkmenbashi, a larger than life father figure who makes 'Fidel Castro seem elusive and short-winded.' She listens to complaints about China in Ulan Bator, and visits the only fundamentalist Buddhist state - Myanmar (Burma).

While I enjoyed the travel recollections, and the insights into different Central Asian modern cultures, what I found most illuminating in the book were the locals' feelings about the United States. Burkett tells us that 'People were upset and angry about things Americans couldn't imagine ... They were simultaneously applying for visas to a country they claimed to despise, and demanding that America cease its adventurism while insisting, with equal intensity, that America solve the world's problems.' She calls it a huge 'failure of understanding', acknowledges that it's mutual, and warns of the danger of 'projecting' our own values onto other cultures. It's an important topic, and I recommend that you read So Many Enemies, So Little Time to understand it better.

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