Red Odyssey, by Marat Akchurin
In 1990, the USSR was staring to fall apart. Perestroika wasn't going all that well. And there wasn't a lot of news coming out of Central Asian countries, so writer Marat Akchurin, a Tartar, decided to take a road trip to see how conditions were. He visited every Central Asian country--Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and so on--talking to friends and strangers in every place he went.
Like most Americans, I know next to nothing about the Central Asian republics, so I learned a lot from this book. I had no idea of the devastation and misery the Soviets brought to these countries--economic, environmental, and cultural. Though the book was by no means all depressing--there was lots of good stuff too, don't be turned off by that.
My online friend Amira, who is about to take her family to Uzbekistan to live, recommended Red Odyssey on her blog. Thanks Amira! I'm really glad I could read Akchurin.
Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher
Yes, it's more dystopian YA fiction! I may expire of a surfeit of the stuff. Incarceron's pretty good, though. It's practically science fiction, set in a far future, centuries after a devastating war. After the war, leaders put at least half the population--all the criminals and difficult people--into a closed prison system called Incarceron. The rest live in a mandated historical fiction world where modern technology, knowledge, and medicine is forbidden (though sometimes still used on the sly).
The story is told from two perspectives--Claudia, the Warden's daughter, lives in a luxurious prison outside Incarceron, where she is about to be forced into marriage with the Queen's son. Finn is an inmate who thinks he came from Outside--or maybe he just has epilepsy. Both need to escape from their lives.
This is a two-book story, and the next one comes out around Christmas.