12 November 2006

Chasing the Sea

I've just finished Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell. Bissell is a former Peace Corps volunteer who went to Uzbekistan, quit after 7 months (PCVs are usually assigned for two years), and then returned several years later to write a book. The book is supposed to be about the Aral Sea, but it's more a travel book about eastern Uzbekistan.

This is undoubtedly one of the better Central Asia travel books I've ever read, but it still had its faults. Bissell spends a little too much time analyzing things, and he focuses on Europeans in Central Asia (I didn't need to read about Connelly and Stoddard again, nor did I just want to hear about PCVs and aid workers), and he writes about the more familiar places. He did overuse f--- and its variants. I almost never heard or read that word while I was in Kyrgyzstan, but maybe it's fallen out of favor in the last few years. But to me, it was too much and didn't seem realistic. The ending chapter or two in Karakalpakstan was great though and I wish more had been written about his stay there.

So, if you've never read anything about Central Asia, this is a reasonably good choice to start with. Bissell doesn't spend too much time talking about the food or the logistics of travelling (so many travel authors fall into that), and you'll get some history in the mix (although I'd have appreciated some sources).

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