Book Review: The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya

Book Review: The Angel of Grozny: Life Inside Chechnya by Äsne Seirstad. Click to read or pin to save for later. |

The Struggle is Real

So I’m trying to get into a new daily reading habit. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading, I do, but the problem with me is the illusion of productivity. I am ‘one of those’ who gets restless when I’m not scheduling new posts to my social media, working on my blog, or adding a tick next to my todo list. Stupid, I know, but I can’t help myself! (Yes I know I can, but just let me have that moment of drama.)

I do read a lot on a daily basis, but it mostly comprises of short articles on my phone. They are also worthwhile, but they don’t give the same benefits as deep reading. I started the monthly book linkup in part to develop this new reading habit, and also to check out the book recommendations of others. A little invisible bonding activity, if you will.

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My Book Pick for September

The book I picked for September is The Angel of Grozny Inside Chechnya by Äsne Seirstad. The title says it all – it’s about life within the war zone of Grozny, Chechnya. The book had a great narrative quality; once you start reading, the words just flow. Äsne has a real journalistic eye for details, and the ability to take them to assemble a cohesive story. She talks to people of all ages, backgrounds and genders, presenting a diverse picture of humanity.

Insights from a War Zone

The story starts and ends with a brother and sister whose parents have died, and who have suffered monstrous abuse by their uncle. The mental trauma leaves these poor children scarred, and they start performing horrendous crimes themselves, from thieving to murdering dogs. They claim that they’re evil from within, and that they can’t stop doing what they do. When Äsne suggests that they may need to see a psychologist, the ‘mother’ of the adoptive household refuses the idea. To make it clear, the mother is a very compassionate woman who takes in orphans and cares for them as if they were her own, yet she doesn’t see the need for therapy.

The Pervasive Stigma of Mental Illness

Few people have seen a therapist in these war zones, with the general assumption that it isn’t a necessity. I used to think this way too. As humans we have the ability to tolerate a great deal through our individual coping methods. But more likely than not, you will hit an unbreachable wall at some point in life, especially if you are young. Also, stigma about mental illness persists even in modern civilisations, so what more in conservative societies? This is sad, because the need for counselling is of greater urgency in war zones. Children there are routinely abused, and permanently traumatised from the unspeakable horrors.

There are No Winners in War and Suffering

The book also reflects the thoughts of some Russians, and their views of these Chechen ‘barbarians’. I’m sure propaganda has a role to play, yet there are no winners in war. Both sides lose family members, sanity, property, and so much more. Books like these serve to make me reflect hard upon the relative comforts I do have where I am, despite chronic pain and the occasional rude doctor. Waiting for four hours at the ER in an air-conditioned, sanitised hall is better than travelling for days at the back of a truck to get help for a major bullet wound.

I am glad that there are people like Äsne in this world, who try to dig out truths that needs revealing, and preserve humanity through storytelling. We need to tell our stories, and listen to the stories of others, or risk going mad or growing into a self-absorbed, ignorant fool.

The Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya by Äsne Seirstad
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