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Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia Paperback – October 12, 2004
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“A hilarious and insightful misadventure in the post-Soviet bureaucratic badlands . . . fill[ed] with Kafkaesque settings and fearsome characters. . . . Bissell is a born raconteur but he is also a prodigious scholar, uncoiling the tangled history, ancient and modern, of this crossroads society in bright, taut cords.” --The Washington Post Book World
“Written with such panache and laden with so much information that it rises to real seriousness . . . moves along as deftly as a novel . . . [A] combination of crack-up wit, wild ambition and preposterous youth.” –The New York Times Book Review
“A geographically and intellectually adventurous memoir. . . . A wildly talented writer.” --Outside
“Bissell seamlessly weaves in historical insights and cultural references, making his tale a well-rounded snapshot. . .. A fine and elaborate mosaic.” --The Economist
“An astonishing book. Both hilarious and deeply disturbing, it’s a crash course in the history, ecology, and politics of a region that seems as remote–and as desolate–as one of the lesser moons of Saturn.” –San Diego Union-Tribune
“Fantastic . . . Bissell proves at the age of 29 he is a maestro of the genre. Read this book and it will be difficult to imagine not traipsing after him wherever he may go in the future.” –Austin American-Statesman
“The narrative is propelled by a strong literary sensibility and Bissell’s droll, self-deprecating humor. . . . A splendid debut.” –Boston Globe
“If you don’t think you want to red a novel about Uzbekistan, think again. Line by line, Chasing the Sea is as smart and funny and entertaining a travel book as you'll find anywhere: and behind the lines are real passion and a wholly justified outrage over one of the world’s greatest political and environmental catastrophes. Tom Bissell is a terrifically sympathetic young writer. Give yourself a treat and read him.” –Jonathan Franzen
“[Bissell] is an adept tale-teller, and Chasing the Sea is a treasure box of history, folklore, social criticism and digressions on politics and economics.” –Newsday
“Bissell offers a sensitive and erudite picture of this fascinating country, ambitiously engaging a broad sweep of history that encompasses Genghis Khan in the 13th century, Timur in the 14th century, and the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. . . . Achieves an engaging honesty.” –The Far East Economic Review
“A bravura exploration of the Aral Sea's dusty remains.” –Men's Journal
“Arresting . . .anything but dry history. . . . Bissell proves himself an apt ecologist, memoirist and historian, bringing readers on a memorable, and even joyous, ride.” –The Journal News
“A subtly amusing narrative. . . . Bissell is young; his first book proclaims that he’s a writer to watch.”–National Geographic Adventure
“I've earmarked nearly every page of this extraordinary travelogue, drawn back again and again to savor the dervish spin of Tom Bissell's prose.... Can Chasing the Sea truly be Bissell's first book?” –Bob Shacochis
“A beguiling debut.” –Esquire
“A literate, elegiac account of travels in the outback of Uzbekistan, tracing the origins and consequences of one of the world’s most devastating ecological disasters. First-rate in every regard: to be put alongside such classics on the region as Through Khiva to Golden Samarkand and The Road to Oxiana.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Fluent and lively prose. . . . Bissell is observant, funny, intelligent, and a vigorous writer. . . . But Mr. Bissell doesn’t write as an expert or a historian; he calls himself an ‘adventure journalist,’ and in Chasing the Sea he has brought back an adventure worth sharing .” –The New York Sun
“Tom Bissell's book is bittersweet and hurts in the way that exceptional writing should.... Shockingly thoughtful and informed.... There are moments in which one cannot help but laugh aloud. . . . This book is not to be missed.” –Peace Corps Writers
“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.” —Publishers Weekly
“An intriguing look at a region that has long been under the heel of tyrants, from Genghis Khan to Joseph Stalin. . . . A marvelous book that reads like an adventure novel.” –Toronto Sun
“Startlingly clever . . . Bissell pulls his reader into the world of Uzbekistan and never completely lets go. In the end, we are left feeling the persistent tug of a tell-tale phantom limb.” –Daily Michigan
“The book could have been marketed as Nick Hornby Goes to Hell. . . . This is painful stuff, but brilliantly captured.” —The Eye (Toronto)
“[Bissell] displays an impressive knowledge of the history of the region . . . Brilliantly written and incisive.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“An ambitious work. . . . An informed, subtle, and humorous take on a country that for decades has been relegated to the back pages of history.” –The Moscow Times
From the Inside Flap
Five years later, Bissell convinces a magazine to send him to Central Asia to investigate the Aral Seas destruction. There, he joins forces with a high-spirited young Uzbek named Rustam, and together they make their often wild way through the ancient citiesTashkent, Samarkand, Bukharaof this fascinating but often misunderstood part of the world. Slipping more than once through the clutches of the Uzbek police, who suspect them of crimes ranging from Christian evangelism to heroin smuggling, the two young men develop an unlikely friendship as they journey to the shor
- Publisher : Vintage (October 12, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 037572754X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375727542
- Item Weight : 11.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.3 x 0.91 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,645,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Written when it was easy to blame all the region's deficiencies on Soviet/Communist colonialism, two decades of sovereign independence have not been kind to this prism. As with much of Africa and Asia, this region simply did not have the internal wherewithal to stand on its feet and has not done so since 1991. Only its natural resources, still pumped to the outside, keeps it from reverting to sand.
Thus one can dispense with most of Bissell's anti-Soviet snark. But as a first hand look at Uzbek society - at a particular time - it's still good reading. He has a way with words that transcends his often fallow opinions.
This book is one of those books that is hard to describe and pin down, something the Marketing department loved I am sure. It is a personal memoir of Bissell's connection to the region, which began as a largely unsuccessful stint with the Peace Corps where he lost it and quit nine months into stay. It is also a sort of travelogue that allows him to ruminate on the upheavals that have rocked the region and Uzbekistan throughout the centuries. It is also an act of reportage on Uzbekistan as it was when he was traveling there in the early 2000s. Despite these threads, there is yet another, it is also largely about his earthy, idiosyncratic translator Rustam, who guides him throughout the novel dropping bon mots of wisdom along the way in his American slang-laced vocabulary. Bissell eventually makes his way to the Aral Sea where his reportage on the human devastation of this lake ended up as a Harper's Magazine article and the impetus for this book.That being said this section of the book is a scant 50 pages: it's the journey, not the destination that matters.
I think it is, here, in this book, that Bissell takes Robert D. Kaplan to task for uninformed reporting in the region and scare-mongering. (I know that I read another article somewhere in which Bissell questions many of Kaplan's conclusion about this region and questions observation made while reporting). I used to be something of a Kaplan devotee, and still thinks he can bring a lot of insight into the regions he visits. But the scare-mongering has been his calling card which has become stale and I lost a lot of respect for him infatuation with Marines when he was embedded with them for his books Imperial Grunts, which is less than objective. However there are many memorable descriptions of people, cities, the surroundings, poor driving, bad food, and excellent descriptions and similes that were clever and engaging.
At one point, Bissell talks to a young Karakalpak man who had been to England. This man remarked that his experience changed everything. "I saw a situation, my own country, that I thought I knew very well, from another point of view. It was like looking into a bottle when you have spent your life seeing it only from the side."
Bissell comments that he then lied and said he knew exactly what the man meant. He lied because he did not like travel, and he admits that he does not see things from another point of view. This is why I have to confess to some ambivalence of my own. For me, Bissell's overarching ambivalence---of going to a place you don't like, to write about things that turn you off, and having experiences that you'd rather not have, missing your comforts, not empathizing with most people---and still doing it---is the downside of this book. An interesting picture of Uzbekistan in modern times, a detailed portrait of a country still finding its way in the community of nations, a country much under the thumb of a dictator--this is the positive side of CHASING THE SEA. So, is it a good book ? You be the judge. I've just set up what I think are the contradictions here. I'm ambivalent.
Top reviews from other countries
Tom Bissell is a wonderful writer who has made me doubly excited to see this Central Asian country.