In Elizabethan parlance, "Tartary" was the expanse of southern Asia stretching from the khanates of Turkestan to the borders of China under Mongolian rule an empire that even at its apex never included Ottoman lands or encroached upon the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Yes, Kaplan does travel as far as modern-day Turkmenistan, which qualifies as part of Tartary. But his romantic title implies a trip to the ancient Orient, while his subject matter is solidly modern Eurasia.
Eastward to Tartary is an account of several different trips through Bulgaria and Romania, Turkey and the Middle East, and the southern tier of the former Soviet Union. Kaplan's rationale for grouping such distinctly different cultures and governments is their common history as orphans of the Ottoman Empire. Seventy-five years later, Yugoslavia was ravaged by civil war and "balkanization" became a household word meaning ethnic division at its worst. Kaplan, who dissected the Yugoslav tragedy to great acclaim in Balkan Ghosts, sees the Near and Middle East poised on similar ethnic fault lines, vulnerable to the same threat of a future power vacuum. "Syria," he claims is "a Levantine version of Yugoslavia." The Caspian region in the new millennium is "an explosive region that draws in the Great Powers," similar to Bosnia and Kosovo in the
Elizabeth Kiem is a freelance writer
based in Washington, D.C.