Cover image for Land beyond the river : the untold story of Central Asia
Land beyond the river : the untold story of Central Asia
Whitlock, Monica.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Beyond the Oxus.
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2003.

Physical Description:
ix, 290 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DK265.8.U9 W55 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DK265.8.U9 W55 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Along the banks of the river once called Oxus lie the heartlands of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. Catapulted into the news by events in Afghanistan, just across the water, these strategically important, intriguing and beautiful countries remain almost completely unknown to the outside world.

In this book, Monica Whitlock goes far beyond the headlines. Using eyewitness accounts, unpublished letters and firsthand reporting, she enters into the lives of the Central Asians and reveals a dramatic and moving human story unfolding over three generations.

There is Muhammadjan, called 'Hindustani', a diligent seminary student in the holy city of Bukhara until the 1917 revolution tore up the old order. Exiled to Siberia as a shepherd and then conscripted into the Red Army, he survived to become the inspiration for a new generation of clerics. Henrika was one of tens of thousands of Poles who walked and rode through Central Asia on their way to a new life in Iran, where she lives to this day. Then there were the proud Pioneer children who grew up in the certainty that the Soviet Union would last forever, only to find themselves in a new world that they had never imagined. In Central Asia, the extraordinary is commonplace and there is not a family without a remarkable story to tell.

Land Beyond the River is both a chronicle of a century and a clear-eyed, authoritative view of contemporary events.

Author Notes

Monica Whitlock has worked for the BBC World Service since 1991. She first went to Afghanistan in 1992 and was the BBC Central Asia correspondent from 1995 to 1998, with offices in Tashkent, Dushanbe and Almaty. Since then she has reported from Iran and Syria and returned to Central Asia several times, reporting from Dushanbe and Tashkent in the immediateaftermath of the attacks on the United States in September 2001. She now lives in London.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For as much as it has been in the news recently, Central Asia remains a cultural and geographic mystery to most Westerners. This unbiased and original selection should begin to remedy our ignorance. The river is the Oxus or Jaihun; the land beyond is Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, former Soviet republics and ancient crossroads to the subcontinent. Less a travelogue than a guided history, Whitlock's narrative spans three generations, from 1909 to the present. Its foci are two men whose illustrative lives put faces on trying times: Muhammadjan Rustomov, or "Hindustani," an Uzbek farmer's son and religious scholar, and Sadr-e Zia, a relatively cosmopolitan intellectual and, according to the author, one of the few men of his time who understood the Russian Revolution's effect on his homeland as it was happening. Contrast between the two men reiterates geographic and political differences between mountainous Tajikistan and barren yet populous Uzbekistan; both prove distinct from and yet terminally entwined with their chaotic southern neighbor. A must for anyone wishing to understand Afghanistan today, this selection will also interest Russian history buffs. --Brendan Driscoll Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Whitlock, a reporter for the BBC World Service, aspires to write a people's history of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan from 1909 to the present. "There are no accounts in English of Central Asia during the Second World War" reads a terse entry in Whitlock's bibliography, suggesting a problem with this approach: people's histories are difficult to present when a region has little in the way of recorded history. Whitlock is forced to weave in an inordinate amount of textbook-level exposition between her firsthand refugee interviews and excerpts from the unpublished diaries of dissidents, resulting in a book bursting out of its own category. Whitlock's intermittent focus on her close relationship with the inhabitants of these remote mountain valleys tends to make her prose veer toward the romantic, as when she describes how Uzbeks conscripted to patrol the Afghan border in June 1997 "walked back swiftly into the hot, black night, thick with the song of crickets." In the hands of a more gifted writer, such an ambitious approach might have successfully blended the newsworthy and the mundane, but Whitlock's prose is too pedestrian. Her preference is clearly for the "unsentimental lives of survivors," and she escorts us through the diplomatic activities of the elites with apparent reluctance. Although this book is certainly of interest to those with a serious curiosity about the region, more casual readers might wait a few years until this untold story is better told. Illus., maps. (Nov. 3) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For most Americans, Central Asia remains a vaguely defined and shadowy region, even as our government continues to be drawn into its seemingly ceaseless upheavals. Whitlock, a BBC reporter, focuses on Uzbekistan and Tajikstan but also dedicates considerable coverage to events in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nearby countries. Essentially, she has written a history of the region over the last 100 years, drawing in part on the accounts of local individuals. She writes of the Soviet takeover early in the last century, that country's withdrawal in the late 1980s, and concludes with the recent defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. First published last year in Great Britain as Beyond the Oxus, this thorough, unemotional, authoritative, and evenhanded analysis will appeal to those who want more than just a current events and tourist view of a region that is likely to continue to flash across our television screens. For academic and larger public libraries.-Harold M. Otness, formerly of Southern Oregon Univ. Lib., Ashland (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.