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True (?) story of a surgeon in Chechnya

  • Jul 6, 2010

The Oath is the story of Khassan Baiev who was a surgeon in Chechnya during the Russo-Chechen wars of the late 90s.  The book tells of his experiences treating Chechan citizens, and Russians, and of the atrocities he saw both during the wars and after.  The experiences he lived through and tales of heroism will keep you turning page after page without wanting to stop but about 2/3 of the way through the book, it may start to sound more like fiction than a memoir to you, as it did to me.

Baiev does a great job of humanizing the conflict and combating the pro-Russian point of view that seems to dominate the media.  Anyone who reads the book will be moved the plight of the Chechans and understand that there is more to the conflict than meets the eye.  It's also abundantly clear that those whom he assisted were extremely fortunate to know him.  However, throughout the story Baiev seems to just scrape through too many close calls and have a little too much luck compared to the average man.  In addition, he toots his own horn a little too much, which might spoil some of the compassion you feel for this man.  I won't spoil the book by giving specifics, but I think it will be obvious if you read it.

While there can be no doubt that Baiev is a hero to his countryman and a great humanitarian, overall the book left a "too good to be true" impression on me.  Unfortunately, when there is so much truth that appears be exaggerated, the whole story loses credibility, at least for me.

I still recommend this book as a good read, but if you don't know anything about the Russo-Chechan wars, don't take it as your primary source of factual information.  The book gives an important perspective on the war, but is likely as biased as any propaganda the Russian media prints about war.


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Russia's war against Muslim separatists in Chechnya turned Baiev from a cosmetic surgeon into a real-life Hawkeye Pierce. As he shows in this understated, honest memoir, the change "took some getting used to": he faced constant obstacles, such as poor supplies, not to mention occasional bombing campaigns-one of which placed him in a coma. And as the only doctor in a city of 80,000, he once performed 67 amputations in 48 hours. Baiev is a clear Chechen patriot, as he goes to great lengths to demonstrate, countering Russian allegations that the Chechens were Nazi sympathizers during WWII and documenting the mighty suffering of his people during the fighting, which has raged sporadically during the past decade. But he details Chechen atrocities as well. He treated everybody, whether Russian or Chechen, and risked his life on numerous occasions to save those on both sides. The result: both sides physically threatened him, yet he was also honored by Human Rights Watch. Throughout, Baiev, who is also a martial arts expert, is modest, which only adds to his heroism. But more than that, he has humanized the Chechens, whom others have portrayed as terrorists. Russian president Vladimir Putin has tried to equate Russia's fight against the Chechens with the U.S. battle against al-Qaida. Those who read this stirring memoir will be hard-pressed to see the situation so simply.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0802714048
ISBN-13: 978-0802714046
Author: Khassan Baiev
Publisher: Walker & Company

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