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Description - Around the Bloc by Stephanie Elizond Griest

Desperate to escape South Texas, Stephanie Elizondo Griest dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. So she headed to Russia looking for some excitement--commencing what would become a four-year, twelve-nation Communist bloc tour that shattered her preconceived notions of the "Evil Empire." In Around the Bloc, Griest relates her experiences as a volunteer at a children's shelter in Moscow, a propaganda polisher at the office of the Chinese Communist Party's English-language mouthpiece in Beijing, and a belly dancer among the rumba queens of Havana. She falls in love with an ex-soldier who narrowly avoided radiation cleanup duties at Chernobyl, hangs out with Cuban hip-hop artists, and comes to difficult realizations about the meaning of democracy. is the absorbing story of a young journalist driven by a desire to witness the effects of Communism. Along the way, she learns the Russian mathematical equation for buying dinner-party vodka (one bottle per guest, plus an extra), stumbles upon Beijing's underground gay scene, marches with 100,000 mothers demanding Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba, and gains a new appreciation for the Mexican culture she left behind.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780812967609
ISBN-10: 0812967607
Format: Paperback
(199mm x 138mm x 23mm)
Imprint: Random House USA Inc
Publisher: Random House USA Inc
Publish Date: 7-May-2004
Country of Publication: United States

Book Reviews - Around the Bloc by Stephanie Elizond Griest

US Kirkus Review » An innocent coming-of-age story from a young Latina journalist who recounts her stays in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, circa 1996 to 2000. There is little to nothing of late-breaking news in Griest's report from her foreign postings. Moscow still smells "of equal parts vodka and sausage, leather and tobacco, sweat and strife," and Beijing of "cigarette smoke, sweat, and soy sauce." You still need permits and papers in Russia, and the bureaucracy still creaks with inefficiency; democracy is a long way off, the revolution is dead, and war and corruption are in: same old same old. In Beijing, where she toils for the English-language propaganda sheet, journalism is all about not offending your friends (North Korea), not recognizing your enemies (Dalai Lama), and steering clear of the sensitive: AIDS, drugs, capital punishment. Cuba, too, gets a standard-issue treatment: "Revolutionaries might be genius military strategists, but they are crummy economists," conveniently forgetting the embargo. So the value of all this comes down to Griest getting off the beaten track, which she does often enough to keep the pages turning: working in a shelter for children in Moscow to taste the downside of vodka; learning to shrug off fiercely held convictions to get into the stomach of the Chinese via the food bond; and dancing (and dancing) in Cuba. The energy she puts into these pursuits opens her mind and drives her story past some hackneyed material (" 'Look at their faces,' Elena whispered in my ear. 'This is real Russia.' "). Here, she can avoid received opinion because she is creating her own, tossing aside "the anvil of history," and slipping on a new pair of cultural spectacles, letting her doubts and new-found notions rise to the surface. Griest at least gets out and about and drinks in some cultural relativism rather than assuming the omniscient cloak of the foreign correspondent. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Stephanie Elizond Griest

STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Latina, and Travelers' Tales. As a national correspondent for The Odyssey, an educational website for kids, she once drove forty-five thousand miles across America, documenting its history. She now runs an anticensorship activist organization called the Youth Free Expression Network out of New York City. Visit her website at