Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky

Overall Rating: 5
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Author: Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky
Title: Mongolia and the Land of the Tanguts.
Time: 1870-73
Destination: the Tibetan Plateau
Length: 3 years
Type: camel caravan
Rating: 5/10

Racist explorer

[Please note: I was only able to get my hands on an abridged German edition of this book. I think English editions are very hard to find as well.]

The story: During a time when Russia is rapidly expanding into Central Asia, geologist/adventurer NMP gladly accepts a mission from the government: to explore and map the Mongolian and Tibetan regions of China. He rallies a few fellow campaigners, gets a caravan equipped and applies for passports from the Imperial Court in Beijing. Then he embarks on his trek to the mystic shores of the Kuku Nor, also known as the lake of Qinghai. All of this takes him long years and leads to the discovery of some previously unknown species.

Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky’s hateful remarks

Here’s the problem though: This guy is an epic racist. He basically just spoils most of his good adventure stories with hateful remarks about the people he encounters in Asia. Sure, one could probably argue that this was a common way of thinking at the time, but I don’t think that makes it any more pleasing to read today. The most ridiculous part is when he is making fun of the Chinese who are having trouble mastering the Russian language – while he himself, NMP, the great explorer and hater of nations, can’t speak a fudging word of Chinese.

So, is this a terrible book? No, not at its essence. While the racial prejudice is very ugly, it doesn’t seem like an integral part of the story (unlike MacLaine’s esoteric rantings in her Camino, for example). It kind of just shines through the cracks, whether you want to see it or not.

great adventure, annoying dude

But the adventure, the core of the book, is pretty awesome, and I am sure all those who have a sweet spot for camels in the Gobi desert will find it captivating. So do I recommend this one? No, I don’t.

I think it could have been good, without the racist crap. But since those parts are rather short, it’s not that terrible either. I’m going to take the easy route and give this one a neutral rating: a 5 out of 10.

Take it or leave it.

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