When a work of non-fiction opens with “On the last day of his old life, the dinosaur hunter went to the beach,” it’s a strong hint that tragedy is in store.
The story of Roman Fyodorovich Ungern-Sternberg—“a Russian general, Baltic baron, Mongolian prince, and husband of a Chinese princess”—more or less writes itself. In his novella, Horsemen of the Sands, Russian writer Leonid Yuzefovich tells the story largely from the perspective of the Buryats—ethnic Mongols living in Russia—through the medium of a lost talisman.
Steppe women had a greater participation than their settled sisters in politics, war and daily work. With Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire, Anne F Broadbridge sets out to substantiate this general observation in the case of the Mongols, from Chinggis (Genghis) Khan to the Great Mongol Ulus and its successor.
Expect no easy ride. Author Bryn Hammond evidently thinks that the best way to teach you swimming is to throw you into the deep end. But if you don’t drown instantly, and if you brace yourself through the first 10-20 pages of Against Walls, there is a good chance that you’ll stay in the magic waters of her world until the end of the story.
It’s pretty hard to compete with the invention of the chariot, the Silk Road, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, so Christoph Baumer’s fourth and presumably final volume in his magisterial history of Central Asia is something of a mopping up operation.
It is worth periodically remembering—as the tsunami of news of China’s momentous economic and political developments rushes past—that China has not always been “Chinese” in the quite the way it is, or can be presented to be, today.