Don’t be fooled by the title, there is much more to this book than yurts and camels milk. This is actually a delightful collection of memoirs told with real affection. It’s also surprisingly informative about the traditions and customs of the country as observed by these multicultural expats. Without a doubt, these visitors embraced the Kazakhstan experience and that comes through loud and clear in their stories. Although the stories are all different, they are tied together by undercurrent of kindness that flows through this book and convinces the reader that, should they ever make the journey, they too will be welcomed with open arms.
Reading this book gives real insight into the people of Kazakhstan and their hospitality. You get the impression that they love nothing more than to entertain and show off their cooking skills, and toast everything with vodka of course. Also clear is their love of storytelling and how, when handing down their tales and proverbs, they encourage the children to commit them to memory so that they are not lost for future generations.
I loved that this book is made up of short stories. It meant I could simply dive into whatever I felt like reading at the time, to suit my mood. Within the pages I listened to a young girl’s view on her forthcoming marriage, a simple view that fly’s in the face of the modern-day woman and her ideals. “All you need is love?” It’s just a line from a song isn’t it? But no, for some people, it really is all that matters and perhaps, they are the lucky ones? You decide.
Roaming these pages like a tourist, I have seen through the eyes of adventurous expats. I have stepped through Magic Dvors and felt the beat and the buzz of community living outside of the compounds. On the streets I have flagged down gypsy cabs and come face to face with the everyday folk; those that are just going about their business and making a few pennies on the side.
This book will take you on a wonderful journey through Kazakhstan, from the city to rural lifestyles grown from a nomadic history. Here you can meet riders who gallop through the never-ending Kazak Steppe, stopping to explore the wildlife along the way or, climb aboard an old Soviet Coal train for a leisurely ride. Although I would recommend you avoid the fish supper! Join wedding parties and treasure hunts, dance like an African and eat with your hands but most of all, lose yourself in the ambience of Kazakhstan and the warmth of its people.
In contrast to the shift in lifestyles, dreams of adventure and the finding your feet accounts, there is a very touching story about an orphanage and a young girl called Oldana. It’s a story of triumph over tragedy that includes a big dose of determination, friendship & love along the way. I think out of all of them, it is my favourite story within the book. It really is one to touch your heart and make you smile.
I have to admit, it was my first experience of this country and I knew absolutely nothing about it before. It was a most enjoyable read and so I say “Kazakhstan, Ochen Pryantno!” (Nice to meet you……..just a little something I learned from this book!)
Early on in the courtship, Ty’s attempts at grooming author Paula Lucas are disguised as sophisticated guidance with good intentions and, without the maturity or experience to know better, slowly Lucas was moulded into suitable wife material.
Her family also fell victim to his manipulative nature when her father, impressed by his assumed wealth, thought he would make a good provider and husband for his daughter.
Despite asserting her own ideals and principles into the relationship, you get a sense of Lucas’s naivety and the optimism that comes with youth. Through a series of manipulations her now ex-husband builds their future with just enough justification in his requests to make them seem convincing. From the innocence of country life to the highlife of New York City, this impressionable Catholic farm girl then follows her heart to the Middle East with a husband her mother warned her about… and then, the nightmare begins.
Far from her family, in an environment that is alien to everything she knows, she becomes a possession to a mentally disturbed and cruel husband who holds all the cards. Even though her new family welcome her, they do nothing when it becomes obvious that things are not right. It’s a lesson to heed for anyone who is considering a multicultural relationship and moving a long way from home.
This harrowing story is told with brutal honesty and there are parts of it that will fill you with anger, sadness, and a sense of loss, not just for the author but all women in the same situation. There are times during the violent episodes when you flinch along with her and your heart breaks for what the children had to endure.
Death becomes part of her life when she witnesses the aftermath of a murder disguised as suicide; and the complete disregard for female victims, twinned with the casual reaction of her husband. This episode demonstrates exactly why she has no choice but to become completely subservient as a means of staying alive, all the time acting as a shield and protector for her children who sadly do not escape the mental and physical abuse.
This true story is a credit to Lucas for her courage, strength and determination under terrifying circumstances, and a story every expat woman should read. It’s admirable that she went on to set up the charity Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Centre and dedicate her life to such a worthwhile cause, but harrowing that she had to find her path through a dense forest of fear and cruelty, more than anyone should have to bear.