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Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  515 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
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
Paperback, 363 pages
Published March 9th 2004 by Villard
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Community Reviews

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Aug 01, 2010 Jan rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A mostly delightful account of the author's time spent living in three Communist countries: Russia (although it was 5 years past Communism when she lived there), China, and Cuba.

The big downside was Griest's tendency to come across very "ugly American" at certain points in the book. I especially found her never-wavering belief that everyone wants to be like America to be grating, particularly by time she got to her third country, after she had been repeatedly told that people pretty much don't.
What a great book! This one was recommended to me by a friend, and loving any type of travel memoir I had to pick it up - I even found a signed copy! Griest's memoir is a perfect blend of self discovery, interesting travel stories and fascinating people from around the world - basically when I travel, I want to travel like her. Her writing style is also simple and engaging - you feel like you're sitting right beside her throughout her trips, experiencing what she's experiencing and pondering ove ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Meg rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
While the concept is interesting, the story isn't engaging. This book is one of very, very few that I simply couldn't bring myself to finish.

"Around the Bloc" was written when Griest was in her early twenties, and it's clear that her authorial voice was still incubating. The narration often comes across as immature and overly dramatized. Take this passage for example:

We couldn't move, couldn't speak. Couldn't do a thing but watch...At some point, I turned around to find Kandy quivering. At first
Feb 12, 2009 Tatasoutsidevoice rated it really liked it
This was originally recommended to me by my friend Larisa. I read it about 6 years ago (maybe longer), so i can't write a detailed review at this point. I just remember being absolutely blown away. (I'm not easy to please either, and I've read a lot of boring travel books). Stephanie is an enthusiastic, talented writer. Her vivid descriptions are amazingly entertaining, informative, and very funny. I had no idea that it took her so long to write this book, that she stuck it out thru so many rewr ...more
Mar 01, 2008 Catherine rated it liked it
Stephanie Elizondo Griest describes her experiences living in Moscow and Beijing and spending two weeks in Havana when she was in her early twenties. I'm usually able to gobble up books of this genre in a couple of days. I thought the subject matter would be fascinating. Instead I found the author's writing a bit too meandering and frequently felt myself drifting to other thoughts while I was trying to concentrate on the book. There were a few interesting dribs and drabs. Overall, I think a bit ...more
Apr 08, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
Damon turned me on to this book years ago. I've shared it with other friends and so far everyone has loved it. Here's a qoute I like..... "She (the Bloc) has taught me the difference between being alone and being lonely and made me ever selective of my company. In fact, the Bloc, has turned me into such a self-sustained, self-contained unit, I'm expecting to self-pollinate any day now." p.365
Liza Ann  Acosta
Apr 28, 2012 Liza Ann Acosta rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-latina-o
Her books make me want to travel!
Jul 05, 2013 Merrikay rated it it was amazing
Stephanie Griest managed to spend a year abroad for school, obtain grants and jobs, and travel to several countries in the communist bloc. In this book, she writes about her year in Moscow, Beijing, and a few weeks in Havana. She was inspired to these things when she heard a talk by a journalist describing what she perceived as a pretty exciting life. She asked him what she had to do to get a job like his. He said to study journalism and learn Russian, so that is what she did.

I found this to be
Sep 25, 2012 Yolanda rated it it was amazing

“Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana” is an exuberant, energetic, informative, and entertaining account of Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s travels: she spent a year studying in Russia, another year working as a journalist at a Chinese newspaper, and vacationed for a few days in Cuba.

The author’s first book, “Around the Bloc” is divided into three sections, by country. We get to peek into the daily lives of Russian students. We learn that when they party, young Russians consume an
Aug 01, 2008 Al rated it really liked it
At a lecture by a international CNN journalist, Stephanie asks how to get a job like his. His answer- learn to speak Russian. And she does.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is a Mexican-American, a high school student when the Soviets lost power, and when the Tiananmen Square Rebellion occurred. What do the people of her generation think about communism? Are they yearning for freedoms we take for granted? Do they hope for democracy? What does her generation of Moscovites feel possible?

Arriving in Mosco
Feb 18, 2012 Josephine rated it really liked it
Remember how the tagline for A&E used to be “escape the ordinary”? (It might still be, but honestly, I haven’t watched A&E in a really long time because it feels like it’s competing with TLC in coming up with completely useless shows where we learn about how freakishly consumerist Western society is.)

I can’t help but admire people who actually manage to “escape the ordinary” — and by “ordinary,” I mean whatever the “norm” is for the society we’re living in.

It takes guts to uproot your li
Jan 14, 2011 Eric rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
I picked it up because I was going on a long weekend trip, and wanted to find some lighter reading. And I find travel books are fun on vacation. It would have been very synchronous if I had actually read the book on the trip. The trip was to Port Aransas, and the author is from Corpus -- I had no idea. Also had no idea that she studied at UT. It was a bit jarring to find pieces of my own world sprinkled throughout the book.

At this point, it's a little dated. And it's interesting to realize how q
Rachael Cain
Jan 24, 2014 Rachael Cain rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
This travel memoir follows the author through several communist (or post-communist) countries, though she only writes about her time in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana. I am in love with all things Russian, so I was in heaven reading the Moscow section. Luckily for me, Moscow takes up about half the book. It would probably still stand as the strongest part of the book, my love for Russia barred. So imagine my disappointment when I promptly fall from a Russia-induced euphoria into the boring and mono ...more
Apr 02, 2015 Lindsay rated it really liked it
This book struck me a little as if a ten-years-younger Carrie Bradshaw type wrote about communism, socialism, and being an American inostranka/laowei/extranjera instead of sex (although there's a smidgen of that, too, in here...and it seemed to actually get in the way a little). Griest's accounts were very personable...great for me whose foreign travels encompass less than half a day in Reynosa and cultural knowledge of Russia, China, and Cuba--apart from history and geography classes--is pretty ...more
Nov 23, 2014 Theresa rated it it was amazing
So my daughter is taking a class taught by Ms. Griest at UNC-Chapel Hill and spoke very highly of her so I looked her up and found her blog and saw that she had published some books. I decided to check her out and am so glad I did.

In the late 1990's, she had the opportunity to visit several countries that had experimented with Communism and wrote a coming-of-age, travel book, memoir detailing her experiences in Russia, China and Cuba. She write from the perspective of a young college student tha
Jun 13, 2008 Iumi rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Iumi by: neighborhood garage sale
First a comment on the author--she's uncompromisingly honest, amazingly courageous (or foolish?) and a good writer. Her adventures and misadventures behind the iron current, the bamboo curtain, and the coconut current (I made that up, I don't know what they call it in Cuba) are sometimes chilling, sometimes hilarious, and always interesting.

Her central question: was the revolution worth it? did the freeing women from foot binding, for example in China, balance out the great loss of life during t
May 05, 2013 Liang rated it really liked it
I had the privilege to listen to a reading by Stephanie Elizondo Griest a few weeks ago at my university's writers series. She'd been here teaching and writing, and after hearing her read some recent and older work of hers, I wish I'd taken her class. She's energetic in ways you don't see very often, and it shows in her writing.

In short, Around the Bloc is inspiring. You're right there with Stephanie as she explores the Red countries and as she looks for a way out of her perceived boring South
Jan 11, 2013 Tessa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I have been fortunate enough to take a class with this charming woman, which might make me biased...But personally I really enjoyed the book. It was well-written and honest, while the tidbits of historical and political background really kept the narrative grounded in modern-day issues. Stehpanie maintained a careful balance between commenting on the shortcomings of these communist systems and her own insecurities regarding the perceived superiority of capitalism and democracy in the U.S. It als ...more
Nov 08, 2008 Sharon rated it liked it
Interesting premise, but many of Griest's conclusions seemed awfully shallow. You can definitely tell that she was in her early twenties without much historical grounding when she wrote the book. I was much less captivated by her perrsonal story than those of her friends Nadezhda and Elena in Moscow amd Liu and Yuer in Beijing. The section on Havana was particularly weak--sorry, but spending two weeks in Cuba as a tourist doesn't give you much insight into the lives of cubanos. Still, it was an ...more
After a CNN correspondent told the eager young Griest that the way to make it as a foreign correspondent was to learn Russian, she did just that. Then she spent the last part of the 1990's living and learning in Russia, China and Cuba. He focus was Communism; what it attempted, how it failed or how it was still lived.
Ultimately, she looks back at the CNN journalist's simple solution and wonders whether "any foreign correspondent [can] accurately cover a society not their own?"
She discovers fin
Mar 07, 2015 Kate rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. It doesn't matter that the information about the various countries is already dated, because this is a memoir, not a travel guide. I thoroughly enjoyed Griest's depictions of the places, and most of all the people she meets. I love that she seems to just love every experience she has, for example when the woman she asks for directions in the Moscow metro grabs her around the neck, shakes her, and tells her she will not help an American. Wow, how exciting! Above all, Griest descr ...more
Paris Marx
Jul 04, 2013 Paris Marx rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
This book follows the author during a fantastic journey through three of the world's most notable communist capitals as she not only discovers what makes each society different from each other, but how much she's missed out on her own heritage by ignoring it as a child.

Griest's experiences are very relatable, even to those who haven't travelled to the places she has, and its lessons can be applied universally. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to learn about the cultures of Russia, Chi
Jul 17, 2016 Lindsey rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
This was an entertaining travel memoir. Her writing style and highlights of her time in Moscow, Beijing and Havana made me believe that maybe I, who is not adventurous, could possibly enjoy a trip to these countries. Maybe. Griest has such an adventurous spirit that is sparked by someone telling her the way to start a career in journalism back then (even though it was just a short time ago) was to study Russian. Although she studied up on the languages and culture before departing, her naivete a ...more
While traveling around the world, Griest finds out a lot about herself. She learns about the complexities of culture too. In the beginning she is interested in immersing herself in other cultures, but she has only a surface level view of her Mexican culture.

This was an often entertaining memoir, but I found myself thinking often about how young she was. So many times the statements she made were just so young and idealistic. I felt old while I read it.

It was certainly interesting to get a glim
Amber Marie
May 31, 2012 Amber Marie rated it it was amazing
I first read this book in 2008 when Stephanie came to teach my creative writing class in New Orleans. I have to admit that hearing the stories from her mouth is a lot better than reading them in the book, but both are amazing. My favorite section was Russia, but that's mostly because I want to visit there the most. I find her to be truly inspiring to anyone who has wanderlust. I will keep my autographed copy forever. :)
Oct 08, 2007 Marcellina rated it really liked it
Got to hear this author speak at the Gala dinner at the Texas Book Festival, although the crowd practically ignored her and almost hooted her during her presentation. Granted her voice is very high pitched and girlish, and she went on several minutes too long, but she's a fabulous writer, and extraordinarily gifted. I'd recommend this book to any young person who is dreaming of traveling the world.

Dec 15, 2009 Pat rated it really liked it
The book is probably now a little dated since it was written about times spent in Moscow, Beijing and Havana in the 1990s. However, it was an interesting perspective of life in these countries. The Havana piece, however, seemed to have been thrown in. For both the Moscow piece and the Beijing piece, the author actually lived in those cities for about a year, which gave her time to really learn about the local culture. On the other hand, the Havana piece was really about a short visit there.
Dec 22, 2011 Danielle rated it really liked it
Fascinating and extremely readable. I give it four instead of five stars because realistically, many of the stories and conversations she relates must be significantly embellished. It's hard to believe she would have had the language skills, political maturity, and memory for these 'reconstructions' to be entirely accurate. My guess is she's projecting a lot of her own research onto her memories and journal entries. Still, it was a page turner, both thought-provoking and educational.
Jan 13, 2009 Mana rated it really liked it
All my friends in college caught the bug of this fabulous and inspiring book —and were lucky enough to get to meet the author. An absorbing, introspective read for independent, young women who love to travel (although others will enjoy being immersed in her experiences as well!). Her narrative style is conversational and the pace is rapid-fire - you'll be amazed how quickly you blaze through this memoir. ...more
May 30, 2008 Nessie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Beginner Travelers
I learned that I am getting old!!
While I am full of admiration for Stephanie, I was also horrified at some of the foolish risks she took during her travels. However, the book combined wise observation, youthful enthusiasm and just enough historical background to make an excellent read that caused me to think about my cultural biases in a new light.
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“That's because true travel, the kind with no predetermined end, is one of the most selfish endeavors we can possibly undertake-an act in which we focus solely on our own fulfillment, with little regard to those we leave behind. After all, we're the ones venturing out into the big crazy world, filling up journals, growing like weeds. And we have the gall to think they're just sitting at home, soaking in security and stability.
It is only when we reopen these wrapped and ribboned boxes, upon our triumphant return home, that we discover nothing is the way we had left it before.”
“Burn a little incense, sacrifice a chicken or two, smoke a cigar, then shake your maracas and dance.” 3 likes
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