Like with the other Central Asian nations, there hasn’t been much written on Uzbekistan. Luckily, what has been written so far, came out of the pen of a good writer.
Quite a few books mention Uzbekistan in some detail, but bundle it up with the other Central Asian nations in regional overviews or travelogues: for that, see “Central Asia books.”
Best books on Uzbekistan
Very enjoyable and easy to get into, A Carpet Ride to Khiva is the story of one man staying in Khiva for 7 years to set up a handmade carpet workshop. Alexander really knows the country and manages to expose the multiple layers of Uzbek society, all while spinning an entertaining tale.
A Peace Corps Volunteer returns to Uzbekistan and travels around with his womaniser-guide, injecting a history lesson now and again into the story. Sounds lame, but unlike the other PCVs who write books about their adventure, Bissell is an actual writer, and it makes this book quite palatable. There is a great review on Goodreads to decide if you should read this.
Set mainly in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, the novel introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route. Yes, it’s extremely postcolonial magical-realist. If you like that, you will eat up the wild mix of cultures and languages that is Central Asia due to exile, war and political upheavals. The book is funny in a farsical, satirical way.
The book gives a good insight into the human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. If you don’t know much, you will be horrified. The downside of the book is that it’s written by a man known to sexually harass woman – so that sort of diminishes his claims of fighting torture.
A political travelogue through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and the best popular journalism to come out of Central Asia. Shishkin knows Central Asia and he knows how to write, and the result is one of the best books on the current state of the region, blending stories of locals with high-level political insight.
An international, interdisciplinary team of experts on the region tries to shine a light on the extraordinarily complicated ethnic, linguistic and political divisions in the Ferghana Valley between the three nations of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They cover the terrain with unmatched depth, breadth and balance.
Totally forgotten, this novel about a man who seeks to redeem his people but finds that he has little to teach interweaves Zoroastrian myth, Sufism, Communism, and Freud, set against the backdrop of Soviet Uzbekistan. Platonov was called “perhaps the most brilliant Russian writer of the 20th century” by the New York Review of Books. That’s a pretty bold claim though.
Boyhood reminiscences of the national poet of Tajikistan (who lived all his life in Uzbekistan). Well worth the read for a view on timeless Uzbek life.
Fascinating portrait of cultural life in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan just after the collapse of the Soviet Union by an erudite and talented ethnomusicologist.
Other books on Uzbekistan
The story of Alexander ‘Bokhara’ Burnes in complete form. Often cited in Peter Hopkirk’s popular The Great Game, this is the full account. Interesting mostly for those with a big appetite for this particular era. Everyone else should stick to Hopkirk.
The incredible account of Britain’s master spy as he eludes the Bolshevik secret police and gathers information on what is going on in Central Asia after the Russian Revolution. Bailey is not a gifted writer, but this is a good book for anyone interested in the history of Central Asia at this time. For a better read of the same story, once again, see Hopkirk.
Solzhenitsyn at his best in this story of sick people in a hospital in Uzbekistan, which serves as an allegory on the sickness of the Soviet system. Brilliant book, but outside of the setting doesn’t say so much about Uzbekistan, so I put it amongst the “other books”.
An academic look at nation-building and the shaping of identity in Uzbekistan through mass events.
A long, hard look at Islam in Uzbekistan.
This one is mentioned a few times in other lists, so I thought I should mention it as well. A really awful thriller. Amazon reviews are mostly from fake profiles with only 1 review.
Man escapes the cubicle and joins the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan, then writes a book about how he doesn’t like the Peace Corps and Uzbekistan. Trees had to die for this?