Yeah most of the Turkic-speaking central Asian countries are a real mess. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan is more of a standard basically competent strongman type guy, so Kazakhstan does way better economically and socially than their neighbours, so you meet way more Kazakhs abroad as they can afford to travel and are allowed to (and also seem to be a nationality who love to travel).
There’s also the issues of the ecological messes the Soviets left behind, like they re-routed loads of rivers to irrigate the Uzbek desert to grow cotton. Which then caused the Aral Sea to dry up. The same Aral Sea the Soviets dumped loads of failed chemical weapons at the bottom of. The Aral Sea borders on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and the Kazakhs want to refill it, especially as they’re very concerned about having a giant dustbowl of poisonous dust around, but Uzbekistan don’t want to give up their cotton industry because it’s pretty much all they’ve got these days, and the rediverted rivers flow through what are now multiple different countries.
I really enjoyed this book. The author Elif Batuman is a professor of Russian Literature, who grew up speaking Turkish with family members. Her university sent her off to Samarkand Uzbekistan one summer as they wanted to have someone covering that region, and Uzbek and Turkish are really similar languages. When she gets there everyone’s a bit taken aback at having to teach someone Uzbek and how on earth you’d go about it, so she ends up being taught loads of poems about people crying that read to her as a Turkish speaker like Turkish that’s been spelt really wrong and had the odd Russian word put in. It genuinely did seem like a really weird place.
Yeah it’s really just not a place that’s naturally suited to growing cotton, the cotton fields were remote desert before they moved the river, so they really have to force it to grow and ship/force people in from hundreds of miles away to pick it.
I remember reading a few reviews of that at some point, sounds quite interesting. might eventually check it out. I know pretty much nothing about russian literature as it stands, nor really anything about the areas that it looks like it’s about
It’s more funny stories related to her job, rather than expecting you to know the books. Like she helped with a conference where they invited the writer’s living relatives, who all turned out to be massive weirdos who had possibly not actually read his books.
Reminds me of a Will Cuppy quote about the Emperor Nero - “He renamed the month of April after himself, calling it Neroneus, but the idea never caught on because April is not Neroneus and there is no use pretending that it is.”