Bissell's first journey to the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996 was cut short by heartache and illness. Memories of that failure dog his return in 2001 to write about the rapidly deteriorating ecosystem of the Aral Sea. Once the size of Lake Michigan, the sea has already lost most of its water and will likely disappear by the middle of the next decade, leaving thousands of square kilometers of salty desert. Journalist Bissell examines that story, but also ponders broader questions about Uzbekistan and its people. Hooking up with Rustam, a young interpreter, he sets off on a road trip across the country. The format of the ensuing travelogue-cum-history lesson resembles that of itinerant political commentators like Robert Kaplan, right down to the repulsively exotic cuisine (e.g., boiled lamb's head) and digressionary mini-essays on the history of European imperialism in Central Asia. But Bissell rails against the way other authors "pinion entire cultures based upon how [their] morning has gone," aiming for a more accurate and balanced portrayal. An ongoing dialogue with Rustam over the region's history and culture, and the extent to which both were shaped by the Soviets, adds a personal dimension. The account doesn't flinch from portraying the region's corruption-crooked cops appear regularly on the scene-but despite the frequent bouts of despair, for both the region and himself, Bissell refuses to give up on the Uzbeks entirely. The humor and poignancy in this blend of memoir, reportage and history mark the author as a front-runner in the next generation of travel writers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The title of this erratic but enthralling travelogue refers to the attempts of fishermen in Central Asia to pursue the receding waters of the Aral Sea, which has shrunk, since 1960, to less than a third of its original size. In 2001, the author, a self-described "adventure journalist" and failed Peace Corps volunteer, arrives in Uzbekistan to investigate this ecological disaster. Bissell doesn't so much chase the sea as meander toward it, and nine-tenths of the book concerns his detours—to Samarkand, Bukhara, and the guerrilla-infested mountains of Kyrgyzstan—and his run-ins with suspicious local police forces. Bissell shines as a raconteur, if not as an analyst, and his ebullient narrative harks back to the travel classics of the nineteenth century, when the journey was an end in itself.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Excelkent book. Very well written. The author does a great job of weaving in history of the region with his experiences in today's Uzbekustan. Read morePublished 22 months ago by SQS
As a former Peace Corps volunteer from Central Asia, and a person having worked in Central Asia several years beyond that, I found this book very irritating. Read morePublished on March 18, 2012 by D. R. M.
The title is a bit of a misnomer. Bissell really spends most of his time not even anywhere close to the Aral Sea but exploring Uzbekistan. Read morePublished on November 12, 2011 by Brian Maitland
I've been reading pretty widely in the travel literature genre for ten years or so now, and I try to finish anything I pick up. Read morePublished on January 27, 2010 by A Reader
The author writes from a fund of historic knowledge about a place little known to most Americans, Uzbekistan. Read morePublished on May 9, 2009 by Mary Carhart
This book reads like an interesting travel diary, interspersed with historical asides that appear to have been culled from secondary sources. Read morePublished on January 6, 2009 by Kuru
Ever since reading Stein many years ago, I *knew* that I had to go to Central Asia someday to see what was there. Read morePublished on April 11, 2008 by Avid reader
Mr. Bissell has written a very entertaining book that is well worth reading. I image him bristling if he ever sees my comments, knowing his scathing sarcasm. Read morePublished on February 11, 2008 by Ancient_Fossil
Ambivalence is a part of modern life. We can't escape it in the complex modern world. Those who want to live without ambivalence may wind up in some kind of fundamentalist... Read morePublished on January 2, 2008 by Bob Newman