GOD LIVES IN ST. PETERSBURG AND OTHER STORIES

Tom Bissell, Author . Pantheon $20 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-42264-5

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. (Jan. 25)

Forecast: Booksellers can recommend this to fans of Jonathan Safran Foer and other hipster chroniclers of Americans abroad (including Dave Eggers, natch).

Reviewed on: 12/06/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 109 pages - 978-0-307-42603-1
Paperback - 212 pages - 978-1-4000-7542-3
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