Summary and book reviews of Chechnya by Carlotta Gall

Chechnya

Calamity in the Caucasus

By Carlotta Gall, Thomas de Waal

Chechnya
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  • Hardcover: Jun 1998,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2000,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

In 1994 Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered an invasion after Chechnya's intractable president, Johkar Dudayev, declared independence for his warrior nation. The result was a disastrous three-year war that took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers, destroyed the Chechen capital of Grozny, and created a crisis of leadership for Yeltsin. 

Gall and de Waal, who covered the war for the Moscow Times, offer an authoritative portrait of combat and a convincing explanation of the origins of the disaster. They deftly put the war into its historical context, describing the Chechens' forced incorporation into imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Parallels are drawn between policies under monarchist and Soviet rule, and special attention is paid to Stalin's devastating deportation of the Chechens to Central Asia in the late 1940s, an event that contributed greatly to the Chechens' determination to gain independence. 

By covering such background, the authors provide a necessary glimpse into the lasting sense of injustice and anger that has spurred many Chechens into action against the Russian army. But while their sympathies clearly lie with the colorful Chechens, the authors remain objective in their assessment of Chechnya's questionable leaders and the corrupt nature of modern Chechen society. Thus, both Yeltsin and Dudayev are assigned some of the blame for hastening the disasterthe former for his bullying nature and misunderstanding of the Chechens, the latter for his Bolshevik tactics. 

New Year's Eve

The people of Grozny were woken before dawn by a thundering bombardment crashing around them. It was New Year's Eve 1994 and they should have been preparing for what was traditionally their biggest holiday of the year. Instead, from 5 a.m. until mid-morning they cowered as attack aircraft roared overhead, diving low to hurl bombs at the city. In the high-rise apartment blocks on the east of Grozny, a few residents, already weary from nights spent in their cellars during weeks of bombing, climbed to the top floors to watch the planes. A one-storey house was already burning furiously, the rafters cracking in the intense heat. Some Russian pensioners, white with shock and brick dust, crawled out of their bombed building and sat wailing on the pavement, still in their nightclothes. Tank shells and mortars were now slamming into the city with steady consistency, growing closer and harder by the hour. Everyone in the Chechen capital knew this was more serious than ...

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Kirkus Reviews

A combination of investigative journalism and historical overview that emphasizes the Chechens' role as the long-oppressed victims of Russian imperialism......Regrettably, despite their obvious engagement with the subject, Gall and de Waal fail to provide a brisk narrative. Their work is thorough but somewhat plodding. Nonetheless, this is a harrowing glimpse into the destabilization caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the troubled road to independence and democracy faced by its non-Russian nationalities.

Library Journal - Rena Fowler

Written by two Moscow Times correspondents, this book describes the conflict, in context, between Russia and these Islamic lands of the Caucasus. .....An excellent journalistic account, the broadest to date.

The Wall Street Journal - Christian Caryl

...provides an excellent ground-level account but sometimes leaves one wishing for a bit more discussion of the wider political context of this crucial historical moment.

The New York Times Book Review - Bill Keller

Their book is an exceptional feat of war correspondence. It is hard to imagine that it will be surpassed as the definitive account of the conflict.

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