Monday, May 21, 2007

Pg. 99: "Around the Bloc"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Stephanie Elizondo Griest's Around the Bloc.

About the book, from the author's website:
As a high school senior desperate to escape South Texas, Stephanie Elizondo Griest listened up when a CNN correspondent offered the how-to-be-like-me advice of "Learn Russian." Though she barely knew enough of her mother's native Spanish to communicate with her Abuelita, Stephanie enrolled in Russian at the University of Texas, commencing what would become a four-year, 12-nation tour of the Communist Bloc that shattered her preconceived notions of the "Evil Empire."

In Around the Bloc, Stephanie relates her experiences as a volunteer at a children's shelter in Moscow, a propaganda polisher at the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece in Beijing, and a belly dancer among the rumba queens of Havana. She falls in love with an ex-soldier who avoided radiation clean-up duties at Chernobyl by slitting his wrists, fights to feature the Spice Girls in print, hangs out with Cuban hip-hop artists who rap about Revolution, and makes difficult realizations about the meaning of democracy and social justice. She also learns how to buy vodka for a Russian dinner party (one bottle per guest plus one), stumbles upon Beijing's underground gay scene, marches with 100,000 mothers demanding Elian's return to Cuba, and gains new appreciation for the Mexican culture she left behind.

Among the praise for Around the Bloc:

"Stephanie Elizondo Griest has the soul of an adventurer, the heart of a child, the wit of a jester, and the mind of a wise old woman. Lucky for us, she also has a pen."
-Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of Shutterbabe

"A must-read for every student traveling or studying abroad. Griest’s four-year journey through communist capitol cities is an absorbing tale of political, social and personal discovery."
-Marybeth Bond, author Travelers' Tales: Gutsy Women; editor Travelers' Tales: A Woman's World

“A Chicana in China y mas? Who wouldn’t want to partake in Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s ongoing love affair with adventure? Unlike some travel stories where a smug author painfully tries to convince themselves (and their readers) how well they can adapt to foreign soil, Miss Stephanie, my dear beige sister, confesses full frontal vulnerability. She is the awkward tourist, the savvy traveler and … one hell of a writer! As long as there are books like this, one never needs to redeem mom’s frequent flyer points to experience true adventure!”
-Michele Serros, author of How to be a Chicana Role Model and Chicana Falsa

"Forget about J-school. Stephanie Elizondo Griest practices journalism the way it should be practiced. I wish I could have been hiding in her suitcase at each stop along her remarkable journey."
-Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba and The Panama Hat Trail

"A stunning first. Stephanie Elizondo Griest's memoir is a coming of age odyssey every American should read. Around the Bloc does more than tell a story. It vibrates with humor, insight and honesty -- a rare gem."
-Anchee Min, author of Red Azalea and Becoming Madame Mao

"A delightful and saucy romp through strange places and even stranger states of mind. Griest is not only an inspiration as a traveler and observer – she is darn funny too."
–James O'Reilly, author of Travelers' Tales

"Opening Around the Bloc is rather like popping the cork off a champagne bottle. This book fairly brims over with a refreshing zest and sparkle, which, one imagines, is probably an apt description of its author, as well. Stephanie Elizondo Griest, who embarked on her own Pilgrim’s Progress around the world’s greatest former (and current) communist capital cities, has written a delightful account of her curious journey. Full of humour, compassion and a great degree of personal candour, Around the Bloc is clearly just the beginning for this gifted young writer.”
-Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Lion’s Grave

Stephanie Elizondo Griest spent much of 2005 traveling throughout Mexico, interviewing undocumented workers and rallying with Zapatistas: Atria/Simon & Schuster will publish her memoir about it in the spring of 2008. Travelers' Tales published her guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go in March 2007.

Read an excerpt from Around the Bloc and visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

The Page 99 Test: Around the Bloc.

--Marshal Zeringue