Published in 2000 (ECW Press: Toronto), Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia is 17 years old. It is also 100 years since the 1917 October Revolution in Russia that began the long experiment of the Soviet Union. Mongolia was the second country after Russia to adopt Communism.
Cover of the Canadian edition (2000) of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia (ECW Press).
The world has changed considerably since then; and so has Mongolia. The digital revolution has rolled across the planet, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a wave of violence and wars, and Mongolia even became the fastest-growing economy in the world a few years ago (2012). But back when this book was researched, Mongolia was just coming out of decades of isolation within the Soviet orbit under Communism, and the country experienced in the 1990s “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).
“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)
That collapse made for some crazy times, as Wild East shows.
Wild East was called one of the top 10 Canadian travel books of 2000 by The Globe and Mail.
Reviews for Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless:
The Globe and Mail
“Engaging…a revealing and often amusing account of her journeys through a beautiful country awakening from a tumultuous era.”
The Georgia Straight, Vancouver
“This readable and reportorial book is the perfect antidote to … those tiresomely difficult, pointlessly dangerous, and essentially fake expedtions undertaken against the advice of local people who know better.”
“Lawless introduces us to Mongolia’s tabloid press, to teenage mineworkers, sharp-eyed young hustlers, nomads whose only possessions are their livestock, Mongolian wrestlers and Mongolian horse races.”
Mongolian Buryat Civilisation Bookstore
“Wryly funny and wide-spectrum account of Mongolia’s tumultuous rebirthing into the 21st century. Half the population lives in Soviet apartment blocks and watches satellite TV but the other half still eek a living from the exquisite, barren hills while living in nomadic felt tents. Of course, I’d much rather be in the tents… but whatever your preference, you will definitely enjoy Ms. Lawless’ writing. She was editor of an Ulaan Baator newspaper for two years, and she tells it like it is. Very highly recommended.”
Read a story by Jill in The Guardian (9 June 1999): Letter from Mongolia | Herding instinct .
The original website for the book is at http://www.wildeast.ca (2003).
Explore further Jill Lawless’ work here: https://muckrack.com/jilllawless
UK edition (Summersdale Travel: 2002). Front cover images © David South and Liz Lawless.
Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia recommended by the Embassy of the United States in Mongolia .
“This is a good, fun book about life in Mongolia. … it’s an interesting and often amusing series of stories loosely connected.”
On the difference between Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia and other travel writing on contemporary Mongolia:
“Others sent me Jill Lawless’s Wild East: The New Mongolia, a compilation of pieces she wrote when she was editor of Mongolia’s English-language newspaper, the UB Post, during Mongolia’s transition from a socialist people’s republic to young democracy. With the wind shaking the frame of my ger, I lit the stove and read what these and other writers claimed to have found just outside my flapping felt walls.
“By the time veteran journalist Jasper Becker’s Mongolia: Travels in an Untamed Land arrived, I had put aside books written since Mongolia opened up to the West in the early 1990s. Most Western travellers and writers discovered the same sights from the back of a borrowed horse. Only Lawless had investigated the place over time on its own terms. The others, full of pith and vinegar and a standard set of assumptions about what they would find, built books on flights of fancy – golfing across Mongolia, following the path of medieval monks, ‘rediscovering shamanism’ – that were flimsier even than those that had set me in motion. The books were as exciting as museum diorama, papier-mâché models of their ‘medieval’ travels and capitalist fantasies.” Three Years in Mongolia: Trying to be a Travel Writer, Luke Meinzen, Kill Your Darlings, 10 April 2012
“I put Becker away and pulled out Wild East by Jill Lawless. She was heaps better than Becker, which wasn’t hard.” MÖRÖN TO MÖRÖN: Two Men, Two Bikes, One Mongolian Misadventure, Tom Doig, Allen & Unwin, 2013
“Wild East is less of a travel memoir, but rather essays and shorter narratives of creative non-fiction … it provides a compelling narrative into the historical moment when Mongolia dropped its isolation and began … its journey toward modernization.” Three Works of Travel Writing to Ignite Your Imagination (while we patiently wait for the pandemic to run its course), November 10, 2020