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Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan

Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan

Author(s): Saffia Farr

Location(s): Kyrgyzstan

Genre(s): Autobiography/Memoirs

Era(s): early 2000s

Everybody has a dream, images of the fantasy life they’d lead if not trapped behind an office desk. Saffia’s dream was to live in the sunshine. She didn’t realise it would lead to raising her first child up fifty-eight steps in a concrete Kyrgyz tenement. Saffia had barely heard of Kyrgyzstan when she agreed to move there with her water-engineer husband, Matthew. Kyrgyzstan is a small country of huge landscapes, a smudge in the vastness of Central Asia. Saffia arrived in the ex-Soviet republic fifteen weeks pregnant, scared about life in a place where people eat sheep’s eyes, drink fermented mare’s milk and live in felt tents. Revolution Baby is Saffia’s story of leaving Bristol for Bishkek and raising Baby Tom in the shadow of the Tien Shan mountains, while Matthew struggles to bring clean water to isolated villages. When Kyrgyzstan descends into anarchy after corrupt parliamentary elections, Saffia is trapped in Bishkek. She witnesses the ‘Tulip Revolution’ and the violence and insecurity which follow as politicians, mafia gangs, crime lords and Islamic militants exploit the political void. Review by Katie Hickman – `Revolution Baby’s is Saffia Farr’ s delightful account of several years spent living in Bishkek, captial of Kyrgyzstan, with her husband, Matthew, a water engineer. Pregnant with her first child, she samples the delights of ex-pat life in one of the poorest and remotest countries on earth, the bald realities of which are, of course, not delightful at all. Health care is rudimentary, if not non-existent (in Bishkek, ‘health’, she comments acerbically, `meant only smoking at the weekend), and her first flat has a bathroom with a padded loo seat in it, so old and stained that foam can be seen escaping from the gashes in the plastic (`This could not be hygienic.) But never mind, armed with a good dose of English stiff-upper lip, she learns to look on the bright side, and finally even to love her adopted country, which she writes about with unpretentious freshness, and an occasionally wicked sense of humour. (During one Russian lesson, she tries not to giggle too hard on finding that she has eaten `cok for breakfast.) I was surprised to find that Farr-by her own admission-could not find a publisher for her memoir, and had to print it herself. Although, having a small baby in tow, her travels in the wider country were not extensive, her account of ex-pat life in a remote country, with all its playgroups, craft mornings and competitive mahjong-playing ladies, is one of the best I have read; equally, if not more, entertaining than a regular travel book. Katie Hickman is the author of six books, among them the bestselling Daughters of Britannia. Her novel, The Aviary Gate, set in the Sultan’s harem in late sixteenth-century Constantinople, is published by Bloomsbury in April.

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