From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this sharp, hip collection of stories, Bissell fictionalizes his experiences in Central Asia, which were first aired in his nonfiction debut Chasing the Sea
. Bissell has a predilection for school-of-Eggers deadpan irony and pop culture references, but if his knowingness sometimes grates, his witticisms are rarely gratuitous; the conflation of American consumerism with the barrenness of the Central Asian landscape gives these stories a striking immediacy: "Afghan men tended to wear their scarves atop their heads in vaguely muffin-shaped bundles or around their necks with aviator flair.... This was called terrorist style
..." "Death Defier" follows a pair of Western journalists as they flee a war-torn Afghan city only to end up in the care of a warlord who dispatches one of them in search of an unlikely folk remedy for the other's malaria. In "Aral," an American scientist investigating the destruction of the Aral Sea is kidnapped by a KGB operative bent on showing the world how pollution has crippled his children and his country. The stunning title story depicts a missionary stationed in Russia who loses his faith as he is overcome by sexual desire. The story's deeply disturbing conclusion is a reminder of the short distance between the help offered by outsiders and the harm they do. Bissell never flinches as he looks straight into the starved hearts of his characters. In these chilling stories of a region ravaged by war, exile and neglect, desperation drives men and women to do the otherwise unthinkable, and no one is quite forgiven for their transgressions.
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Bissell's collection of short stories set in Central Asia feature Americans emotionally and literally stranded in alien circumstances they struggle to comprehend. These six tales bring culture clashes and complexities to new levels as characters strive to survive in and make sense of seemingly senseless situations. Two journalists in Afghanistan fend off the inevitability of death while in the company of a notorious warlord. A missionary in St. Petersburg attempts to reconcile his homosexuality and infidelity with his faith. A young married couple is ill-equipped to deal with a marital crisis during a dangerous hike in Kazakhstan. The irresponsible son of an American ambassador on a collision course with fate risks his own life and costs his father his job. An environmental biologist is forced to rethink her theory on the diminishment of the Aral Sea. A returning Peace Corps volunteer finds he cannot pick up the pieces with his former girlfriend. Bound by common thematic elements of pathos and confusion, these stories shimmer with rare insight into an ever-mysterious foreign landscape. Margaret FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved