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410S.COW;H’ ELIZONDO GRIEST go where the Revolution prospered and Former Times [as Russians refer to the Soviet era] was the present,” she explains. Obtaining a coveted journalism fellowship, she arrives in Beijing to spend a year polishing the prose of an English-language magazine published by the Chinese Communist Party. It would be, she reasoned, an opportunity to experience censorship and a state propaganda machine firsthand. It would also be an opportunity to feed a few fantasies “about slipping subversive messages through the iron bars of prison cells and witnessing dissidence in action!’ Alas, it would not be an auspicious beginning. On her first day of work, Griest tries to impress her colleagues by ordering something tasty, yet suitable for her vegetarian regimen, in Mandarin. She announces that she would like to chi doufu, to eat tofu, prompting a fit of giggles from everyone at the table. Later one of her colleagues takes her aside and explains that saying you like to chi doufu means that you enjoy giving oral sex. Eventually she recovers from her linguistic lapse; vegetarianism goes by the wayside. Between 1996 and 2000, Griest traveled to more than 20 countries, from the Eastern “bloc” and former Soviet Union to China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Turkey, Colombiawhere she looked up the old boyfriendand Cuba, where she witnessed the end of the millennium and the height of Elan madness. Along the way she spent time in Austin, work ing for the Associated Press, covering the Legislature and Governor George W. Bush, which must indeed have seemed like a rather strange interlude. And then one day it all happened just as she had feared years before: She was 25, with no job, living with her parents in Corpus. But she was also beginning the first of what would become many, many drafts of a book that eventually became less of a travelogue and more of a travel/memoir as it slowly and painfully evolved into Around the Bloc. As someone who thinks that nirvana is a 10-hour Brazilian bus ride, I can’t help but love this book. Griest is a chatty, intrepid traveler who has woven her own coming-of-age story against the back I want to speak the tongue of my ancestorsnot just to make idle conversation, but to tell my tias a funny story, to soothe a frightened child, to philosophize, to sing, to pray. “I want my grandchil dren to be transfixed by my fingertips, singed and callused from heating up tortillas. I want to be able to call myself a Chicana in any crowdand believe it. So, basically I traveled tens of thousands of miles to appreciate what had been in my block all along. But it probably would not have seemed this rich if I hadn’t taken the long road. *Everything will be cool. What one of Griest’s Russian friends tells her on her secondto-the-last night in Moscow: “Soon you are going to be home in Corpus, near the ocean. Vcyo budet klassno.” drop of three world capitals and the drama of three complex societies. She has also written a classic, profoundly American story of loss of innocenceNever before had I been held accountable for what I represented. Nevertheless, the book’s subtitle”My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana” is a bit of a misnomer. Her trip to Cuba via Mexico takes about two weeks, time enough for a few adventures, but mighty thin to qualify as “My Life in Havana!’ And yet those chapters on Havana seem to fulfill another purpose. After years of struggling with other languages and other cultures, Griest returns from her Cuba trip determined to learn Spanish and to unravel the complicated family history that she has only had time to outline in this book. “And now,” she concludes: 8/13/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27