Synopses & Reviews
With captivating insight, realism, and humor, this stunning debut novel tells the parallel stories of two native villages, each facing cultural extinction. It's the end of the twentieth century, and in the towering mountains of post-Soviet Central Asia, Anarbek Tashtanaliev is single-handedly providing for his small village in the face of a collapsed economy. But the cheese factory he manages no longer produces any cheese, and his favorite daughter has been stolen in an ancient nomadic courting ritual. When he is ruthlessly blackmailed, Anarbek finds himself at a crossroads between the traditional past and the uncertain future. He stands to lose everything he loves.
Half a world away, in the high canyons of Arizona, Adam Dale is a young Apache basketball star and the future hope of his tribe. He struggles to keep his family together amid the pressures of reservation poverty and the corrupt rule of his increasingly bull-headed father, the tribal councilman.
Anarbek and Adam seek out the one person they think will be the solution to all their problems: a peripatetic American aid worker who'd once volunteered in both of their villages. Now working as a refugee resettlement officer in Istanbul, Jeff Hartig must suddenly play host to first one, then both of these men from his past. Soon, Anarbek's disgraced daughter joins them and the unlikely foursome find themselves sharing an apartment in the magical, sprawling city. Equally fascinated and perplexed by one another, they discover hope, then friendship, then love, unaware that they will soon face one of the most disastrous earthquakes of the century. Yet it is only in traveling so far, and surviving so much, that each person realizeshis or her own capacity to endure.
Sweeping, compassionate, and deeply moving, this novel celebrates the power of human connection in a largely unsettled world. Robert Rosenberg is an original and important new voice in contemporary fiction.
"Ah, the happy days of the 1990s, when Americans could travel abroad fearing only natural disasters and imperfect plumbing. This rollicking first novel brings readers to some unusual locales-post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, an Apache reservation, earthquake-shattered Istanbul-to tell the story of Jeff Hartig, a young man who travels the world but can't leave behind his own shortcomings. After an unhappy time running a teen center in the Apache town of Red Cliff, Ariz., recent college graduate Jeff hitches up with the Peace Corps, landing at an even more remote destination-the Kyrgyz village of Kyzyl Adyr-Kirovka, deep in the steppes of Central Asia. The village's one asset is a defunct cheese factory funded by government subsidies, run by the ebullient, generous Anarbek Tashtanaliev, who takes it upon himself to help Jeff experience the overwhelming wonders of Kyrgyz hospitality. Anarbek also has a beautiful, English-speaking daughter named Nazira, who understands more clearly than her fellow villagers how little one American visitor can accomplish for them. Ashamed of his own ineffectualness, Jeff flees Kyrgyzstan, leaving behind one lasting impression-a pregnant Nazira. He next alights in Istanbul, where he settles once again into expatriate life, until Anarbek, Nazira and his young Apache friend Adam appear, asking Jeff to make good on all his promises of assistance. Then the 1999 earthquake hits, in a harrowing sequence that envelops the entire mismatched group and plunges Istanbul straight back into the uncivilized world. Rosenberg's ability to illustrate these oddball settings-based on his own time in the Peace Corps and elsewhere-is pitch perfect, a vibrant mix of the serious and the absurd. With Jeff, he puts a brilliant new spin on a compelling type: the Well-Meaning American." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The details are bracing and exact....[J]ournalistic, humane and heart-wrenching." The New York Times
"A wonderful work; highly recommended." Library Journal
"[A]n intelligent, earnest, and highly readable first novel." Kirkus Reviews
"[W]hat a generous, big-hearted book this is, perceptive enough to catch the goodness in all these well-intentioned people. Each of them endures the sting of inadequacy, but they're all tethered to a sense of compassion that snaps them back from despair. Yes, the incurably charitable are hungering for their own salvation in the act of feeding others, but that cynical insight, Rosenberg argues, mustn't lead us to scorn the whole enterprise. In an era that gave us the term 'compassion fatigue,' his novel is a gentle rousing by someone who understands the complicated rewards of caring." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire Christian Science Monitor review
Rosenberg's ambitious and addictive first novel brings to life a culturally diverse group of well-meaning characters whose ambitions exceed their grasp.
Anarbek Tashtanaliev runs a Soviet cheese factory that produces no cheese, and his favorite daughter has been stolen in an ancient courting ritual. But the United States sends to his Kyrgyz village what he hopes will be the solution to all his problems: an American Peace Corps volunteer. Jeff Hartig has just left an Apache reservation where he failed to keep a teen center up and running. Saddened but still hopeful that he can effect positive change, Jeff arrives in Central Asia ill prepared for Anarbek's fervent ambitions and the aggressively hospitable local culture. He finds himself teaching English to milkmaids and entangled in Anarbek's corrupt business schemes, again left to wonder what difference he can make to a culture struggling to survive.
A few years later Anarbek, his daughter, Jeff, and Adam, an Apache from the reservation where Jeff worked, converge in Istanbul, and their fortunes become interwoven. The four share an apartment in the magical, sprawling city. Each on the run from the past, together they form a patchwork expatriate family, unaware that they will soon face one of the most disastrous earthquakes in history.
Exotic, romantic, and deeply moving, this novel brilliantly explores America's relationship to indigenous peoples, the need to find morality amid corruption, and the connection between people and their homeland. It is also a touching love story about those caught between age-old tradition and the dangerous allure of the contemporary world.
In the tradition of Prague and White Teeth, This Is Not Civilization is an inspired, sweeping debut novel that hopscotches from Arizona to Central Asia to Istanbul with a well-meaning, if misguided, young Peace Corps volunteer. Jeff Hartig lies at the center of this modern take on the American-abroad tale, which brings together four people from vastly different backgrounds, each struggling with the push and pull of home. A young Apache, Adam Dale, forsakes the reservation for the promise of a world he knows little about. Anarbek Tashtanaliev, of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, operates a cheese factory that no longer produces cheese. Nazira, his daughter, strains against the confines of their villages age-old traditions.
With captivating insight, realism, and humor, Robert Rosenberg delivers a sensitive story about the cost of trying to do good in the world.
About the Author
Robert Rosenberg recently finished his M.F.A. at the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he held Maytag and Teaching-Writing fellowships. Previously he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in newly independent Kyrgyzstan. He lived there for two years, and afterward the Peace Corps awarded him a fellowship to teach on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona while he completed his masters in education. He lived in Cibecue, a small Apache village, and as one of the four original teachers he helped establish the villages first high school. He also founded and edited a community magazine devoted to preserving the culture of the White Mountain Apache tribe. In 1999 he took a teaching job in Istanbul, arriving there five days before the August 17 earthquake.