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Chasing the Sea: Lost among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asiaby Tom Bissell
Synopses & Reviews
In 1960, the Aral Sea was the size of Lake Michigan: a huge body of water in the deserts of Central Asia. By 1996, when Tom Bissell arrived in Uzbekistan as a naïve Peace Corps volunteer, disastrous Soviet irrigation policies had shrunk the sea to a third its size. Bissell lasted only a few months before complications forced him to return home, but he had already become obsessed with this beautiful, brutal land.
Five years later, Bissell convinces a magazine to send him to Central Asia to investigate the Aral Sea’s destruction. There, he joins forces with a high-spirited young Uzbek named Rustam, and together they make their often wild way through the ancient cities—Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara—of 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 shores of the devastated sea.
Along the way, Bissell provides a history of the Uzbeks, recounting their region’s long, violent subjugation by despots such as Jenghiz Khan and Joseph Stalin. He conjures the people of Uzbekistan with depth and empathy, and he captures their contemporary struggles to cope with Islamist terrorism, the legacy of totalitarianism, and the profound environmental and human damage wrought by the sea’s disappearance.
Sometimes hilarious, sometimes powerfully sobering, Chasing the Sea is a gripping portrait of an unfamiliar land and the debut of a gifted young writer.
From the Hardcover edition.
The author of fiction and journalism chronicles his harrowing journey into Uzbekistan to investigate the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea, capturing all the pathos and contradictions witnessed by an American adrift in a foreign land. Reprint. 12,500 first printing.
In 1996, Tom Bissell went to Uzbekistan as a na•ve Peace Corps volunteer. Though he lasted only a few months before illness and personal crisis forced him home, Bissell found himself entranced by this remote land. Five years later he returned to explore the shrinking Aral Sea, destroyed by Soviet irrigation policies. Joining up with an exuberant translator named Rustam, Bissell slips more than once through the clutches of the Uzbek police as he makes his often wild way to the devastated sea.
In Chasing the Sea, Bissell combines the story of his travels with a beguiling chronicle of Uzbekistan’s striking culture and long history of violent subjugation by despots from Jenghiz Khan to Joseph Stalin. Alternately amusing and sobering, this is a gripping portrait of a fascinating place, and the debut of a singularly gifted young writer.
About the Author
Tom Bissell was born in Escanaba, Michigan, in 1974. He worked for several years as a book editor. His criticism, fiction, and journalism have appeared in Harper’s, Men’s Journal, Esquire, McSweeney’s, The Boston Review, and Best American Travel Writing 2003, among other publications. He has been nominated for several awards and not received any of them. He lives in New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
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History and Social Science » Russia » General Russian History