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When Things Get Dark: A Mongolian Winter's Tale Hardcover – February 16, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
First though, some background. As a kid I saw a movie about Genghis Khan and got interested in Mongolia. At the time - many years ago - it was communist and VERY isolated. Of course, it had always been isolated I guess - the word Mongolia used to be a virtual synonym for isolation at one time. (I must confess that I use it that way to make a point in a seminar that I give, but that is another story.) Needless to say, there was not much real information on it that I ever saw until quite recently and even now it seems minimal.
So, we now have this book. The author spent time in Mongolia recently as an English teacher and seems to have gotten immersed into the local situation in a time of great change. He lived in a ger - the circular tent looking house of Mongolia and took up some local habits. It seems winter there is pretty hard to say the least. Many bizarre anecdotes.
One of the local habits he took up was drinking a LOT and getting into at least one very violent fight - the scene with him in the hospital with kidney damage after that tells you how bad it was. A bit shocking, but maybe it tells us more about what things are really like there than we might get in say National Geographic.
Not you standard travelogue although there is some of that too. Give the author some credit for honesty, and he did seem to learn something important from the experience and not everyone might.
Some interesting perspective. Give it a try, but be warned that it is not for the faint of heart.
This is not to say that the author had no good intentions. Upon returning to his living space, he was surprised to find it clean, bed made. This was quite a change. Before he left, the room had been strewn with filthy clothes, dirty plates, cigarette butts and even a several month old rotting fish. While he had been away, a drunken neighbor broke in with impolite thoughts but was caught. As punishment, he was required to clean the place up. The local police expected Davis to press charges and have his neighbor, a family man, thrown into the Mongolian pokey. "That man," one officer said, pointing outside to where the man was, "entered a foreigner's home. That is not good." Our volunteer, Huck Finn in the Orient, turned the other cheek.
Life in the bush mellows. Whether it be the enormity of nature or being part of the food chain, one cannot help but see things a bit differently. When asked what he had learned in his two years, the author replied, "The Wall Street Journal burns better than The New York Times." No greenhorn would have said that. Five stars. Check it out.
Flown to Mongolia in the year 2000, a twenty-three year old Davis was assigned to teach English in a remote hamlet struggling with change. Only eleven years after the Soviet retreat following nearly seven decades of occupation, the country has been beset by a series of natural disasters that have nearly expunged their livelihood- animals. With dwindling economic means, nation-wide migration to the cities and even foreign lands was underway. Davis found a people beleaguered by the fierce winds of want who found solace in drink. He, far from home, also took to drink.
The landscape and climate are foreboding. Winter temperatures rival those in Alaska. Unlike most of Alaska, there were roads. On one of his trips overland during winter, the jeep in which he traveled stopped, dead. Outside with the driver, he noted that "a gust of wind rattled across the steppe and blew some loose snow on our bodies. The snot in my nose had already frozen."
Like all wild places on earth, Mongolia offered special obstacles. For instance, the marmot (a large ground squirrel) burrowed all over the steppes and was hunted. Unfortunately, it also can carry the Black Plague. "Every summer," explained the author," Mongolian newspapers run the Plague Alert (much as western states in the United States run fire alerts)." His own town was quarantined for several weeks. There were humorous obstacles as well. When trying to agree on a weekend meeting with a Mongolian peer, he bargained for Saturday since Sunday was Christmas Eve.Read more ›
I've heard the history portions of the book described as boring and filler, but I actually felt it was the most accessible book on Mongolian history that I've read, because he connects everything with real life. That said, his experience will most probably not mirror that of other ex-pats living in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, or even tourists visiting the countryside. Tourism is becoming sophisticated here. I would not, however, recommend visiting in the winter. Come in the summer when it's gorgeous! If you can brave the cold, come in the fall.
A definite read for any Peace Corps volunteer coming to Mongolia. No, actually, you should read it even if you're just interested in Mongolia. It's well written, a good book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read a lot of travel books and I was glad I read this one when I closed the book. Davis adds a section on further reading in the back of the book, which I believe all authors... Read morePublished on March 11, 2014 by Kristofer Ryan
As a RPCV from mongolia, myself, it was a very interesting read. The book arrived in great condition and i'm glad to have a clean hardcover of it.Published on August 21, 2013 by Aleta Phelps
This honest tale is a good introduction to Mongolia for somebody who has never been there. It also tell an inspireing tale of trying to adept into a foreign culture while holding... Read morePublished on March 19, 2013 by Siv Henriette Jacobsen
I'm a former Peace Corps Mongolia volunteer, and I enjoyed Davis' descriptions of the expatriate experience... honest and heartfelt, yet informative. Read morePublished on July 29, 2012 by WordsmithTroubadour
I think this book will really resonate with foreigners living in Mongolia and English teachers working in foreign countries. Read morePublished on January 25, 2012 by A.Sprague
As a parent of a former Peace Corps worker in Mongolia and having made a visit to the country, I believe Davis gave an accurate account. Read morePublished on August 19, 2011 by Thomas R.
I have to say that I was quite surprised by this one. After reading many reviews on the book I finally got it not really having high expectations for it. Read morePublished on February 23, 2011 by Happypoppeye
The author writes with wonderful restraint never falling into the trap of over-dramatizing a situation that for a 23 year old guy - even an adventurous one like Matthew Davis - was... Read morePublished on December 12, 2010 by Purnell Meagre