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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel


Lost Cosmonaut

Daniel Kalder

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Lost Cosmonaut

Title: Lost Cosmonaut
Author: Daniel Kalder
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 273 pages
Availability: Lost Cosmonaut - US
Lost Cosmonaut - UK
Lost Cosmonaut - Canada
  • UK subtitle: Travels to Republics the Tourists Forgot
  • US subtitle: Observations of an Anti-Tourist
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining if a bit uneven

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 25/3/2006 Dusko Doder
The Independent . 7/3/2006 Askold Krushelnycky
The LA Times . 3/9/2006 Karrie Higgins
New Scientist . 25/1/2006 David Cohen
New Statesman D 27/2/2006 Viv Groskop
Sunday Telegraph . 12/2/2006 Rory MacLean
Sunday Times . 12/2/2006 Allan Brown
TLS . 5/4/2006 Zinovy Zinik

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but most enjoyed it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kalder has written a readable book that for the first time assembles essential historical and factual information about the four republics. This is a considerable achievement, as the process of Russification was so successful that there are very few people who still remember old traditions and practices." - Dusko Doder, The Guardian

  • "(C)uriously captivating (.....) Much of this fine first book is hilarious and often abrasive. But Kalder's observations are always underpinned by a fondness for these hidden Europeans, and the cultures edging towards extinction." - Askold Krushelnycky, The Independent

  • "Kalder loves to tell tall tales. (...) Such episodes are irreverent and laugh-out-loud hilarious, but they achieve something far deeper, establishing a constant tension between the reality of these places and the travel narratives you want to hear. Kalder plays on this perfectly -- inviting you to be complicit, daring you to recognize your own desire for something other than authentic, real experiences. You want the spectacle. Isn't that why you bought a travel book ?" - Karrie Higgins, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he places Daniel Kalder visits are real enough, but he refuses to find anything interesting about them. He may think this is hilarious, but in fact it merely emphasises how misguided his book is. (...) There is no real passion in Kalder's boredom. He wants to hate everywhere, be miserable and revel in some sort of postmodern existentialism, but the most he can say is that everything is shit. (...) The whole thing is incredibly frustrating. Kalder's student humour occasionally prompts a belly laugh, but more out of desperation than anything else." - Viv Groskop, New Statesman

  • "Lost Cosmonaut could be an irreverent jibe at 'traditional' travel writing. Kalder questions the value of the travel writer in the discovered world." - Rory MacLean, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Daniel Kalderís style is to travel to the grimmest places imaginable and attempt to have the worst time possible there, like a kind of Free Presbyterian with a visa. (...) A cult waiting to happen, itís a mischievous squib of a book in which nothing happens very quickly and the cast of characters extends to a range of morose Soviets apologising for their homeland, but Kalderís passion for it all is sincere and infectious, even when visiting Peter the Greatís museum of bottled mutant babies." - Allan Brown, Sunday Times

  • "Daniel Kalder is a clever young man pretending to be a naive fool, whose extensive knowledge of Russia is well hidden inside a mock travelogue that invites the reader to visit the most boring, bleak and bloated landscapes on earth (...) With ruthless clarity and irony, Kalder exposes the essential dreariness of daily life in Russia omitted by the "wise men", purveyors of the exotic." - Zinovy Zinik, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Daniel Kalder doesn't want to be a tourist. He doesn't want to go to the places everyone goes to, he doesn't want to see the tour-book sights. He wants to be an anti-tourist -- though he realises it's hard to find any spot that hasn't made it into the guidebooks and onto the intrepid travellers' itineraries.
       Where to go, then ? Kalder chooses some of the obscurer pseudo-statelets of the former Soviet Union -- ones in Europe, no less. So close, and yet so far.
       Obscurity is pretty much the only thing he's looking for. He wants to go to places beyond off the beaten track. Otherwise he's not too particular:

      I had decided to visit the Republic of Udmurtia, on the basis that it had a strange name that echoed the words "ugly" and "mud." Apart from that I knew nothing.
       The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to a separate expedition -- to Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia. They're not at the ends of the earth (in fact, they are all officially in Europe), but pretty much no one travels there for fun. But that's part of their appeal to Kalder: when two of his travelling companions think about leaving on such not-hot spot, Elista, he almost gets hysterical:
     No ! I thought. That must not happen ! There was still a lot of nothing I wanted to see, still a lot of boredom I longed to experience. This is reality, I thought in my excitement. This place reveals the true meaning of our lives ! We're all just floating around in a void, surrounded by crap, looking for ways to pass the time, man. We had only scratched the surface of Elista's vast emptiness !
       There is, in fact, a bit more than sheer emptiness in the places he visits -- but not much more.
       These run-down pseudo-autonomous areas are each home to a distinct cultural group, often with a long (if generally not particularly glorious) history. What's left is the remnants of cultures (with ethnic Russians dominant even in these places), hanging on but looking doomed. (He even particularly admires the Udmurt for giving in, and not asserting their importance .....)
       Aside from describing these (geographic and cultural) wastelands and the quirks of travelling there, Kalder does find a thing or two worth seeing. The Mari in Mari El, for example, "are the last true pagans in Europe" (and it's a big mail-order-bride centre, which also makes for some good stories). And there's Kalmykia, home to 'Chess City', the nutty ambition of its president, Kirsan Ilumzhinov, to make this the chess capital of the world (with limited success so far). So he does move about with a little purpose.
       Kalder takes a non-serious approach to travel -- and to almost everything. He jokes a lot (and has quite a few funny (mis)adventures to tell), but he's also not very serious about almost everything, a laid back attitude that works quite well for the book but can also be somewhat irritating. A few flights of fancy go too far, and some of the stunts he pulls feel a bit desperate (aside from recounting his adventures he offers things such as movie-concepts in synopsis form). He does try to provide a bit of history and background for the places he visits, but doesn't really get beyond the bare essentials.
       There are also quite a few photographs: in keeping with general approach and attitude:
     "What project is that ?"he asked, a smile at the corner of his lips.
     "The secret history of the world."
     "What do you mean ?"
     "I take pictures of things everybody sees but dismisses as unimportant."
       All in all it's quite good fun, and certainly an enjoyable pass-time book -- a good read for a long trip, for example.

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Lost Cosmonaut: Reviews: Daniel Kalder: Other books by Daniel Kalder under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kalder was born in Scotland in 1974.

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© 2006-2018 the complete review

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