Tea of Ulaanbaatar

Christopher R. Howard, Seven Stories, $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-60980-086-4
It's youthful idealism gone wild in Howard's striking debut. Part of the eighth Peace Corps team ever granted access to Mongolia, Warren is stationed in a "cursed" late 1990s Ulaanbaatar, working as a teacher and killing time with his somewhat unhinged group of Peace Corps cohorts; there are "five of them and nine hundred thousand Mongols." When he's not busy obsessively washing his hands—40 to 50 times "on a bad day"—or dreaming of his college girlfriend, Padma, Warren takes up with Subdaa, a bad-news Mongolian he soon accompanies on a bender. Despite warnings, the pair starts experimenting with tsus, a highly addictive blood-red tea that inspires fanatical devotion and some serious delusions. Howard's tight and witty writing gives spry life to what could otherwise be a ho-hum stranger-in-a-strange-land kind of tale. His characters are well developed, and Warren, despite his moral decay, is easy to root for and—hallucinations withstanding—a reliable guide. Though the large chunks of drug-induced rambling could have easily been pruned, the energetic prose pushes the story along at a healthy clip, even when, as Warren's co-worker says, "It's always saddening to see this, when a foreigner loses his way in Ulaanbaatar." (May)
Reviewed on: 02/07/2011
Release date: 06/01/2011
Open Ebook - 107 pages - 978-1-60980-335-3
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