Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder.
We ran across this book the other day and remembered that it appeared frequently when conducting Amazon.com searches under "Tatar". We picked it up and decided it was worth a read.
So... A man from Scotland visits Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia, and specifically these locations as he expects to find "nothing" there. He is in search of locations that tourists would never desire to visit.
This strangely appealing book swings back and forth between being incredibly insulting to quite informative.
His sole commentary of the Tatar State Theatre is that the building has "loads of bird shit" on it. He also decides that a Russian he meets in Kazan is a "trouser-pilot" and "cock-muncher".
Here is an excerpt:
"An interesting point regarding those peoples of the former Soviet Union whose names begin with "K": sometimes there is more than one way to spell those names. Kalmyk, for example, is sometimes written Kalmuck, just as Kyrgyz can also be written Kirghiz and I have seen Kazakh spelled Kazak. There is also a group of baptized Tatars called the Krashen or Kreshen.
This signifies that no one in the English-speaking world gives a fuck."
"I like to read about the Kazan of old, of dreaming minarets and Asiatic bazaars, I do. But I'm glad it was destroyed.
If it existed today it would be a dilapidated heap, or a sterile heritage center, an empty shell that existed for tourists only, insipid and dull, like Prague. But the obliterated Kazan can never be visited, except in our imaginations, and thus it can never disappoint. It has a mythic power. Through annihilation it has been transubstantiated. And the pitiful squalor of the real Kazan only adds to the beauty and power of the unreal one."
Concerning the preservation of the threatened cultures he visits, the author expresses insight in the following excerpt:
"In Tatarstan, In Mari El, I had encountered a ferocious straining, an attempt at self-assertion in the face of global indifference"
This book was originally published as "Travels to the Republics that Tourism Forgot"