Around The Bloc
Around The Bloc is not for the faint-hearted, romantic, dreamy traveler who wants to experience a culture without too much discomfort. But it is for the true explorer, the adventurer who relishes assimilating into a way of life by living in and with the people.
Ms. Griest’s bloc focuses on three communist countries – Russia, where she lived as a student, China, where she was a worker, and Cuba, which she experienced as a tourist. Two-thirds of the book deals with Russia – personal experiences, insights and information that will make you laugh, cry, wonder, question, cause some frustration and anger – laced with interest and anticipation for the next episode.
The sections on China and Cuba are less fascinating, perhaps because the author had already experienced Russia, and her sense of wonder had faded somewhat. The friendships made in China and Cuba were not as intense and close as those made in Russia, where Ms Griest fell in love, and spoke the language with an ease she did not have in Chinese and Spanish.
The author’s frankness, not only to the cultures, but to herself is admirable and refreshing. Through her relationships, observations and analyses, we learn about life as lived by a nation’s citizens, and how these people affected the writer’s personal growth. Ms Griest’s curiosity, adventurous spirit and need to understand other viewpoints through their eyes and ears challenge the reader to stretch and change positions.
Writing style reflects Ms. Griest’s exuberance, vitality, humor and creativity. Attending a banquet in Beijing, the author deliberates.
“That’s when I realized the fundamental difference between Russians and Chinese: One bonded over drink, the other over food. My upcoming year would be a challenge not of the liver, but of the stomach. After an intestinal transfer of power, I swiped up my chopsticks and dove back in.”
I quote Deborah Copaken Kogan’s short and on-the-mark review. “Stephanie Elizondo Griest has the soul of an adventurer, the heart of a child, the wit of a jester, and the mind of a wise old woman. Lucky for us, she also has a pen.”
by Stephanie Elizondo Griest