Governed by what is surely the most eccentrically despotic regime in the post-Soviet space and by a leader who has christened himself "Turkmenbashi" (father of all Turkmen) and renamed months of the calendar after himself and his mother, Turkmenistan is a head-scratching mystery for almost everyone on the outside. Edgar, despite a brief stab at the book's end, does not explain how this has come about. But in tracing the formative impact of the Soviet revolution on Turkmen society in the 1920s and 1930s, she does a magnificent job of making comprehensible the nation now tyrannized by the "Glorious Leader." None of the former Soviet republics better illustrates the Bolsheviks' role as inadvertent nation-builders, taking a largely nomadic tribal people, whose identity was tied more to genealogy than to territory, and transforming it into a socially stratified, settled, semimodern, language-based national entity. Socialism, their goal, failed-indeed, because of what it could not change-but the national shell remained.
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