Daniel Metcalfe’s first book, Out of Steppe, which charts a five-month trip to track down ‘the lost peoples of Asia’, bravely takes up the challenge of contemporary travel writing. Metcalfe’s reasons for writing the book are a little flimsy: he is inspired by ‘a feeling … that if I didn’t talk to some of these people soon, in a few years their culture may be indistinguishable from their neighbours’. Nevertheless, his instinct is quite right. These beleaguered ethnic groups, struggling to survive in a post-Soviet world, deserve our attention.
After a year living in Tehran, Metcalfe sets off for Uzbekistan, armed with a classical education, colloquial Dari and boundless enthusiasm. His first stop is Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, where wrong-headed Soviet agricultural policies have led to the disastrous depletion of the Aral Sea and to the loss