Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia ➠ [Epub] ➚ Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia By Tom Bissell ➪ – Centrumpowypadkowe.co.uk In , Tom Bissell went to Uzbekistan as a naive Peace Corps volunteer Though he lasted only a few months before illness and personal crisis forced him home, Bissell found himself entranced by this remo In , Tom Sea: Lost ePUB ´ Bissell went to Uzbekistan as a naive Peace Corps volunteer Though he lasted only Chasing the PDF/EPUB ² a few months before illness and personal crisis forced him home, Bissell found himself entranced by this remote the Sea: Lost PDF È 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 than once through the clutches of the Uzbek police as he makes his often wild way to the devastated seaIn 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

Tom Bissell born Sea: Lost ePUB ´ is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer Librarian Note There isthan one author Chasing the PDF/EPUB ² in the GoodReads database with this name See this thread forinformation.



10 thoughts on “Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia

  1. Buck Buck says:

    Now thatandwriters in my age bracket are getting published, I ve noticed something unsettling reading their books is a bit like listening to my own voice on tape and has the same cringe inducing effect I realize every generation has its own jargon, its in jokes and iPod playlists, but experiencing it from the inside is different And demoralizing It makes you appreciate how hard it is to rise above the idle chatter and say something halfway original At any rate, Chasing the Sea s Now thatandwriters in my age bracket are getting published, I ve noticed something unsettling reading their books is a bit like listening to my own voice on tape and has the same cringe inducing effect I realize every generation has its own jargon, its in jokes and iPod playlists, but experiencing it from the inside is different And demoralizing It makes you appreciate how hard it is to rise above the idle chatter and say something halfway original At any rate, Chasing the Sea struck me as just the sort of book I might have written if I d spent a few months bumming around Uzbekistan and if I were, you know, a little brighter andenterprising As a person, Tom Bissell is probably nothing like me, but various little signs and shibboleths give away his age He s definitely one of us Take his sense of humour I m not sure how to categorize it exactly, but I know it when I hear it, if only because of the Pavlovian regularity with which it cracks me up Much of the comedy in the book is provided by Rustam, the MILF chasing Uzbek slacker who serves as Bissell s interpreter The exchanges between the two, full of comic misunderstandings and crude affection, have this loopy, laid back, THC infused qualityWe need to go somewhere soon, bro, because my pee bubble is full Your pee bubble This is the bubble which holds my pee Your bladder, you mean Bladder B l a d d e r In English you don t call it the pee bubble I will from now on, probably And laterFerghana is safe, bro I don t want you to worry I m not worried The only thing you have to worry about is the Wahhabi rebels in the mountains And then only during Rebel Season Rebel Season Yeah When the snow melts They move around When exactly is Rebel Season Well, I guess now For me and maybe only for me the interesting thing about travel writing is that, while technically non fiction, it s hedged with as many codes and conventions as the novel Among other challenges, the writer is faced with the delicate task of creating a narratorial voice, of constructing a persona The trick is to be sympathetic without appearing to curry favour with the reader The classic British travel writers whom Bissell has obviously read with care solved this problem in classic British fashion through irony, understatement, self depreciation Bissell adopts an up to date, American version of this strategy, presenting himself as a bumbling but well meaning doofus whose courage keeps deserting him at critical moments thus, having agreed to smuggle some cash to the wife of an imprisoned Uzbek journalist, he gets so freaked out by the superintendent of the woman s apartment building that he falls all over himself trying to run away something it s very hard to imagine Sir Wilfred Thesiger ever doing Even if it is just a conventional pose, Bissell s innocent abroad routine seems very credible to me, mostly because I can relate all too well to his habit of losing his shit in spectacular ways All the same, it s kind of a sad commentary on 21st century manhood that we ve gone from aristocratic sangfroid Being tortured by Papuan cannibals is rather a bore to our present state of gushy enfeeblement Bissell has a recurring joke about how his decision to quit the Peace Corps back in the 90s was emotional and complicated basically he missed his girlfriend and went crazy What the fuck has happened to us Structurally, Chasing the Sea is excuse the pun a little choppy Every time Bissell gets to a new town, he calls a halt to the narrative and piles on the scholarly in fill, giving you a potted history of the place from medieval times to the present And he can t so much as glance at a minaret without writing two pages of expert commentary on its lovely neo Byzantine ribbing or whatever Unless you have a truly perverse passion for Central Asian history and architecture, you re going to find all this expository stuffing very lumpy But read it anyway Even if you re not lucky enough to belong to my fabulous cohort heck, even if you re one of those insufferable baby boomers you re bound to get something out of it It s a sad, funny, extremely informative book Just skim the minaret parts, is my advice


  2. Vanessa Baldwin Vanessa Baldwin says:

    I lived in Central Asia for over a year as a Peace Corps volunteer and I feel a kinship with this author I, like him, didn t know anything about the history of the region before I served there, and didn t make much of an effort to dig deep either It is only now, ten years later, that I have made an effort, as did the author for his second trip His research is enlightening, but reading this book did not change my perspective about my experience there Instead, it felt as if all of my intuition I lived in Central Asia for over a year as a Peace Corps volunteer and I feel a kinship with this author I, like him, didn t know anything about the history of the region before I served there, and didn t make much of an effort to dig deep either It is only now, ten years later, that I have made an effort, as did the author for his second trip His research is enlightening, but reading this book did not change my perspective about my experience there Instead, it felt as if all of my intuitions and vibes about the place were accurate, that although I didn t know the details, I was dead on in my assessment I both loved the culture and found it mind boggling at the same time I felt exhilarated and oppressed, enchanted and repelled, appreciated and mocked, all at the same time, all legitimately I ve gone on too long already, and have been frustratingly vague Anyway, the book is really important It is unflinchingly direct and honest and should be read


  3. Jim Coughenour Jim Coughenour says:

    A few years ago I read Tom Bissell s book of short stories God Lives in St Petersburg and greatly enjoyed its ultra dark comedy, but it didn t prepare me for Chasing the Sea, Bissell s account of his 2001 journey through Uzbekistan in the company of Rustam, his handsome, hip and silently desperate translator Bissell s ostensible reason for his visit was to document the apocalyptic deterioration of the Aral Sea, but in fact it seems to be a private pilgrimage, an exorcism of past failure h A few years ago I read Tom Bissell s book of short stories God Lives in St Petersburg and greatly enjoyed its ultra dark comedy, but it didn t prepare me for Chasing the Sea, Bissell s account of his 2001 journey through Uzbekistan in the company of Rustam, his handsome, hip and silently desperate translator Bissell s ostensible reason for his visit was to document the apocalyptic deterioration of the Aral Sea, but in fact it seems to be a private pilgrimage, an exorcism of past failure he d had a breakdown in Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid 90s.Yet the book is muchthan that part political reflection, part polemic against Ends of the Earth writers like Robert Kaplan , part picaresque adventures in Central Asia and ultimately, a ghastly tale of political and ecological disaster and the people who endure it The book takes a deeply dispiriting turn at the end, as Bissell finally reaches the desert wasteland of what used to be the world s fourth largest inland body of water and leaves his faithful readers stranded like ships on the sand.Bissell s writing is never less than beguiling, even though his book is at times almost unbearably sad The annotated bibliography at the end is a bonus, prompting me to hunt down my next armchair expedition F W Bailey s Mission to Tashkent.


  4. Jaimie Jaimie says:

    One of those books that I found myself reading to the exclusion of my usual habits I did not want to put the book down, and I did not want it to end That this is Bissell s first book is astonishing, and it speaks to just how deeply ingrained his experiences were It felt to me as if I was traveling with him, feeling the heat, struggling to understand the culture, excited by the quest, daunted by the distance to be covered Butthan that, I also felt the history unfold around me as Bissell One of those books that I found myself reading to the exclusion of my usual habits I did not want to put the book down, and I did not want it to end That this is Bissell s first book is astonishing, and it speaks to just how deeply ingrained his experiences were It felt to me as if I was traveling with him, feeling the heat, struggling to understand the culture, excited by the quest, daunted by the distance to be covered Butthan that, I also felt the history unfold around me as Bissell recounted it to me I learned a great deal about the Uzbeks, Central Asia, the Mongols, and the history of Russia s conquests, about leaders such as Tamerlane whose awe inspiring fearsomeness echoes down to the present day, about architecture and wars upon wars, about countless lives spread over ages now lost, now re animated, unforgotten but forever beyond us.Bissell s story is at once personable and intimate in its portrayal of his journey, and fairly scholarly in its erudition I found myself recommending it to anyone who at all seemed interested in the world out there , because Bissell s writing his cadence, his word choices increases such interest, resonates with that sense of fascination, amplifies the ideas engendered by what he shares.The Aral Sea is a backdrop for most of the story, but it is not until the final pages of the book that we reach the rapidly receding shore of the greatest ecological disaster of our age What is amazing is how reaching this terminal point makes the rest of the book fall into place, creating a configuration that is, quite simply put, stunning The question raised calls out like a ship s plaintive horn across the waterless waste What hath man wrought It is a question the answer to which is unsettling to the heart But Bissell managed to bring me to that deserted shore, to walk among the dessicated ships stranded there, to be a witness to the outrage there perpetrated against the world, without ever preaching at me or trying to sell me anything In the end, I felt as if I d been quietly guided there to see for myself, and my reaction to it was echoed in Bissell s own reaction our humanity was there in common


  5. Tiffany Tiffany says:

    I remember being really impressed with his article about the Aral in Harper s many years back but anyone hoping for a deeper look at that particular crisis will be disappointed He barely reaches the Aral and isinterested in telling the rest of the Central Asian story Which is ok I applaud him for writing a book about this forgotten part of the world But having read several of his books now, I have to say there s something off about his gender relations It s hard to put my finger on it I remember being really impressed with his article about the Aral in Harper s many years back but anyone hoping for a deeper look at that particular crisis will be disappointed He barely reaches the Aral and isinterested in telling the rest of the Central Asian story Which is ok I applaud him for writing a book about this forgotten part of the world But having read several of his books now, I have to say there s something off about his gender relations It s hard to put my finger on it but it s partially the way he hypes up his own dude bro credentials also seen in Extra Lives Matter and partially the way he doesn t seem to relate any real peer to peer relationships with women the way he does with men a few women are mentioned in a cursory way and or dismissed as a type Maybe if I reread it I could analyze exactly what the problem is, but I don t want to reread it.Update I DID reread it, after I traveled to Uzbekistan, and I enjoyed itthe second time around because I could relate a bitto the spaces and places he talks about However, I still don t like the way he relates to women which is mostly not at all Lots of dude bro stuff, a reference I assume the thinks is clever to something being ugly like a partial birth abortion a medical procedure that does not actually exist, although the late term abortions that do exist usually being something that women have to go through with a good deal of mental and some physical pain and suffering , his sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle characterization of so many women as victims It s not a deal breaker because again, your choice on books about this part of the world is limited, but it is annoying


  6. Gina Gina says:

    In some respects, the author s descriptions of life in Uzbekistan are identical to my own experiences in Kyrgyzstan and travels in Uzbekistan But in other respects, Kyrgyz culture and history and post Soviet government are so different from Uzbekistan s And I m lucky to be in the Peace Corps over 20 years after the author was, for internet access, at least I reserve some misgivings about the author s personality I m not convinced I d like him if we met And I don t love his writing style he In some respects, the author s descriptions of life in Uzbekistan are identical to my own experiences in Kyrgyzstan and travels in Uzbekistan But in other respects, Kyrgyz culture and history and post Soviet government are so different from Uzbekistan s And I m lucky to be in the Peace Corps over 20 years after the author was, for internet access, at least I reserve some misgivings about the author s personality I m not convinced I d like him if we met And I don t love his writing style he s prone to some overly flowery, maudlin lines and it was hard for me to get into it, with the constant dense historical digressions surrounded by light dialogue and storytelling I found it wasof an afternoon book than one to read before bed Part of the reason it took me so long was just that I had a hardcover version that discouraged me from carrying it anywhere, and I restarted at least once.But I m glad I read it


  7. Erica Erica says:

    The Stans were nothing but a blank space on my mind map of the world before reading this book Bissell infuses warm and witty, honest travel experiences with stories of the brutal forces that have torn through Uzbekistan over the centuries, the most recent being the cotton industry that continues to destroy the Aral Sea and the people who used to live by its fishing industry I couldn t help feeling at the end that the Aral Sea, the salty former seabed of which Bissell describes as appearing The Stans were nothing but a blank space on my mind map of the world before reading this book Bissell infuses warm and witty, honest travel experiences with stories of the brutal forces that have torn through Uzbekistan over the centuries, the most recent being the cotton industry that continues to destroy the Aral Sea and the people who used to live by its fishing industry I couldn t help feeling at the end that the Aral Sea, the salty former seabed of which Bissell describes as appearing microwaved , might be a canary in the mine for poor ole mother earth in general Great info on the aftermath of USSR collapse, too And funny


  8. Kamili Kamili says:

    Sometimes I like to imagine this Freaky Friday moment where I become Tom Bissell and he becomes me It s not that I want to have written this book so much I want to have lived it Reading his writing any of it, honestly is like being cracked over the head with the idea that books are really nowhere near as crazy and as awesome as real life Can you remember the last time a book did that to you


  9. Tim Martin Tim Martin says:

    _Chasing the Sea_ is one of the finer travel books I have read in some time Author Tom Bissell set out originally to cover the tragic disappearance of the Aral Sea, a once large inland body of water shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that has been slowly choked to death since the 19th century by diversion of the water to grow cotton Through the course of the book though he not only covers the Aral Sea but also relates his previous personal experiences with Uzbekistan he served for a time as _Chasing the Sea_ is one of the finer travel books I have read in some time Author Tom Bissell set out originally to cover the tragic disappearance of the Aral Sea, a once large inland body of water shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that has been slowly choked to death since the 19th century by diversion of the water to grow cotton Through the course of the book though he not only covers the Aral Sea but also relates his previous personal experiences with Uzbekistan he served for a time as a Peace Corps volunteer as well as his current travels Though he left the Peace Corps, his love for this Central Asian nation didn t leave him and he felt compelled to return, not only to his host family but to the country in general.We learn that Uzbekistan is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world though this achievement has not come without considerable cost also amazingly enough they grow rice too That this desert nation relies so heavily economically on such a thirsty plant is unusual, but Bissell details how the American Civil War cut off the supply of cotton, encouraging tsarist Russia to look for a new source Demand for cotton only escalated during the Cold War To grow the cotton, the Amu Darya River known in antiquity as the Oxus was diverted This river, which forms part of Uzbekistan s southern border and the primary source of the Aral Sea s water, now no longer feeds into it at all The formerly vast river, which once formed a huge inland delta, is now a mere creek at best as it reaches the receding shores of the Aral.The Aral Sea s certain demise sometime in the first few decades of the 21st century will have ugly consequences As late as 1960 the Aral Sea was still the fourth largest inland body of water in the world now it is largely salt crusted, dust storm swept desert, much of this salt and silt poisonous thanks to decades of Soviet insecticides and dumped toxic waste Moynaq, once a prosperous seaside community that had 40,000 inhabitants, was a favored beach retreat, and had a cannery that produced 12 to 20 million tins of fish a year now over a hundred miles from the sea s present and still receding shores, it is a near ghost town with no jobs to speak of Fishing ships lie where they were abandoned, resting incongruously in sand dunes Now that the Aral Sea has thus far lost over 70% of its water volume it no longer acts to moderate regional temperatures summers are hotter and winters are colder possibly ironically dooming the very crops that are being grown at the expense of the sea The two dozen fish species that were once endemic to the Aral Sea are now extinct though other species were later reintroduced to the northern Kazakhstan portion The formerly unique desert forests that surrounded the lake are long gone as well.More tragic still are those people who live around the Aral Sea For over 600 years the Karakalpaks, a formerly nomadic people, have called these shores home Now they are poor and unhealthy, as their industries fishing, canning, and shipbuilding have vanished and they suffer soaring rates of infant mortality, tuberculosis, and other diseases directly and indirectly related to the vanished desert sea.I don t however want to give the impression that this is a grim book, as there are many funny sections in it and Bissell is a talented writer Nor is the Aral Sea the only subject covered It is not even the main subject of this travel essay Most of the book is devoted to Bissell s travels, most of them with a young Uzbek named Rustam, hired as a translator but becoming a friend as he journeyed throughout Uzbekistan, from the T ien Shan Mountains and Ferghana Valley in the far east of the nation through Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara Along the way the author relates many interest aspects of Uzbek history and culture, including the days of the Mongols, Timur known in the West as Tamerlane , the Samanid dynasty of 819 1005 during which time Uzbekistan became a center of Islamic learning, producing the great doctor ibn Sina, known to Westerners as Avicenna, revered in the West as late as 1700s, and al Khorezmi, from whose name the word algorithm is derived , the Great Game the 19th century Cold War of sorts between Russia and the British for supremacy in Central Asia , and the rule of Islam Karimov.I found his portraits of the various cities the most interesting aspect of the book Tashkent for example we learn is not only the most populous city in Uzbekistan but the most populous in Central Asia It is also one of the most modern seeming Central Asian cities, as there is very little architecture older than about 50 years owing partly to the fact that the city has been Russified since the late 19th century and partly due to a massive 1966 earthquake Despite is appearances though this oasis city its name means Stone City is over 2000 years old, making it one of the oldest extant cities in the world For much of its history it was a sporadically independent city state surrounded by a famous high stone wall sixteen miles long now completely gone and controlled at times by such various groups as the Arabs, Chinese, Mongols, and the Kazakhs.Bissell also has many asides in the book about Uzbek culture He wrote of the very nature of Uzbek, an agreed upon identity that is less than a century old that in 1902 a Russian ethnographer noted that there were80 clan names in Uzbekistan,important to them than any Uzbek identity Indeed, Uzbek history in any form only stretches back to the 14th century, when a fierce group of nomadic invaders came down from the plains of southern Siberia.A good book, just wish it had pictures


  10. Patrick McCoy Patrick McCoy says:

    I have been a fan of Tom Bissell s writing ever since I came across it in Harper s Magazine I specifically remember reading a short story set in Central Asia that eventually would be included in his entertaining short story collection God Lives in St Petersberg and Other Stories There were other nonfiction pieces as well, starting with the magazine version of what would become a book about his father, who fought in the Vietnam war, and later their trip back to Vietnam The Father of All Thing I have been a fan of Tom Bissell s writing ever since I came across it in Harper s Magazine I specifically remember reading a short story set in Central Asia that eventually would be included in his entertaining short story collection God Lives in St Petersberg and Other Stories There were other nonfiction pieces as well, starting with the magazine version of what would become a book about his father, who fought in the Vietnam war, and later their trip back to Vietnam The Father of All Things And also, the magazine article about the natural disaster that is the Aral Sea that begat this book, Chasing The Sea Lost Among The Ghost Of Empire In Central Asia 2003 I doubted that I would ever read this book, thinking it would be unlikely that I would develop an interest in Central Asia Well, since I am returning there for a second visit the first was five years ago in 2010 , to Kyrgyzstan again for a volunteer conference in English language education I figured that this book would be good background reading for a return visit, and it was In fact there were some sections that took place in Kyrgyzstan and all countries in the region must be referred to when talking about the history of the region.This book is one of those books that is hard to describe and pin down, something the Marketing department loved I am sure It is a personal memoir of Bissell s connection to the region, which began as a largely unsuccessful stint with the Peace Corps where he lost it and quit nine months into stay He eventually faces up to those memories and faces the reasons why he fled during the Peace Corps, and quite simply lost his mind It is also a sort of travelogue that allows him to ruminate on the upheavals that have rocked the region and Uzbekistan throughout the centuries It is also an act of reportage on Uzbekistan as it was when he was traveling there in the early 2000s Despite these threads, there is yet another, it is also largely about his down to earth, idiosyncratic, straight talking translator Rustam, who guides him throughout the novel dropping bon mots of wisdom along the way in his American slang laced vocabulary Bissell eventually makes his way to the Aral Sea where his reportage on the human devastation of this lake ended up as a Harper s Magazine article and the impetus for this book.That being said this section of the book is a scant 50 pages it s the journey, not the destination that matters.I think it is, here first, in this book, that Bissell takes Robert D Kaplan to task for uninformed reporting in the region and scare mongering I know that I read another article somewhere in which Bissell questions many of Kaplan s conclusion about this region and questions observation made while reporting I used to be something of a Kaplan devotee, and still thinks he can bring a lot of insight into the regions he visits But the scare mongering that has been his calling card has become stale and I lost a lot of respect for him due to his infatuation with Marines when he was embedded with them for his books Imperial Grunts Need I mention that this book is less than objective However, getting back to Bissell, there are many memorable descriptions of people, cities, the surroundings, poor driving, bad food, and excellent descriptions and similes that were clever and engaging Overall, I found this book engaging, entertaining, and informative as well as being a page turner


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