While trying to collect interesting literature on Kyrgyzstan, it struck me how little has been written about the country in English, and how much of what has been written comes from the hands of Americans who stayed in the country for a while as Peace Corps Volunteers, embassy staff or expat wife.
I did not include any of these books: they are all terrible. Below, I have only listed good books by professional writers about Kyrgyzstan. A surprisingly short list.
Quite a number of good travelogues and political and historical accounts of the wider region do include Kyrgyzstan. They can be found in the Central Asia books section.
Top-2 books on Kyrgyzstan
Restless Valley – Philip Shishkin
Philip Shishkin spent several years in Kyrgyzstan in a time of serious upheaval. He witnesses 2 revolutions as well as the aftermath of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan. For anyone who wants to know more about what happened in those storied days: this is the book.
Shishkin’s focus is on the links between politics, organised crime and corruption. He has the inside scoop on the dirty deals of the Akaevs and the Bakiyevs, the Manas airbase shenanigans, the ethnic cleansing in Osh and a live report of the looting of the White House.
Jamilia – Chingiz Aitmatov
The most beautiful love story in the world? Probably not, but Jamilia, written by Kyrgyzstan’s national poet, is a good story, and one that evokes the life and landscape of the Kyrgyz people very well. Chingiz Aitmatov has written a lot of books, but start your foray into Kyrgyz literature with this classic: it’s short and packs a punch.
Coffee table books
Most coffee table books you find lying around the book shops in Bishkek have decent pictures but terrible translated text. The only one we have found so far that transcends the average is the one by Claudia Antipina.
Kyrgyzstan – Claudia Antipina
Eye-catching, sumptuous pictures of Kyrgyz people in traditional settings. The book focuses on the costume and dress of Kyrgyz people, led by the research of ethnographer Antipina.
Kyrgyz Republic (Odyssey Guides) – Rowan Stewart
This is the most complete guide to Kyrgyzstan. The drawback is that it was last updated in 2008. Another issue is the lack of detailed travel info.
If you think you know everything about Kyrgyzstan, you should get this book: plenty of corners discussed here that you likely have not visited yet. For everybody else, the Bradt Guide is a better alternative.
Bradt Guide to Kyrgyzstan – Lawrence Mitchell
Not as thorough as the Odyssey guide, the Bradt Guide however is much more up to date, and excels in the practical travel info that is sometimes lacking in the Odyssey Guide. Rowan Stewart might tell you where to go, but not how to get there. The Bradt Guide does a much better job at this. Useful stuff!