The answer for someone curious about the mess Russian President Boris Yeltsin has gotten himself into in Chechnya but despairing of the dense, confusing political map. Goldenberg, a journalist with The Guardian and a frequent visitor to the Caucasus, escorts the reader painlessly and efficiently through the region, tracing the course of events in Chechnya and other violent conflicts. She starts with just enough history to orient the reader and then sets off on a concise, lucid narrative of what happened when the Soviet empire collapsed: the return of Turkey and Iran to the region, the economic burdens of independence, the awkward process of working out matters with the Russians, and the discouraging fragility of democratic aspirations. Next, in a sensible, logical order, Goldenberg sketches the conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and Ossetia, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ingushetia and Ossetia, Russia and Chechnya, placing each in context of the political, national, and economic challenges.
Goldenberg makes no pretense of supplying a scholarly explanation of history. Rather this is a background essay that pulls the pieces together and makes the newspaper stories intelligible.