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The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer

A Mad, Bad, and Brutal Baron

A review by Anne Applebaum

Like a contemporary reincarnation of Adela Quest, the heroine of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, James Palmer was both attracted and repelled by his first encounter with the grotesque, grimacing, wooden gods of Inner Mongolia:

I entered the shrine of a gruesome god, his sharp teeth grinning and his head festooned with skulls. I wasn't certain who he was, since the Tibetan pantheon inherited by the Mongolians is replete with such figures. In a small dark room, with incense burning and other gargoyles looming, it seemed capable of an awful, twitching animation; I felt it might lick its lips at any moment. A rural Mongolian couple were kneeling on the floor before it, chanting and kowtowing; they'd brought oranges to feed the god and cash to bribe him. Even after the pilgrims had left, I didn't want to stand in front of the thing, let alone examine it closely; it was the first time I'd had any concrete sense of the word "idol."

Although he was "raised...



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