Reviews: The Collapse of Certainty and Morality in a Post-Soviet Vacuum ; the Wednesday Book

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GOD LIVES IN ST PETERSBURG

By Tom Bissell FABER&FABER, pounds 7.99.

Order for pounds 7.99 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

The macho tone of "Death De-fier", the first story in this collection, makes it sound as if Tom Bissell is after the Hemingway touch. Strong emotions are his business. But macho yields to desperate after a foreign correspondent and his cameraman crash their car in dangerously unpredictable Afghanistan, cNovember 2001.

Mostly, these fine stories are set in Central Asia, and picture the chaos of life in the Russian wake. Bissell, a former Peace Corps volunteer, traces a world in which certainty and morality have collapsed, and sees how it hits outsiders, especially Americans. Most are nave' some set out with decent intentions. Life and death are fortuitous, the best men don't win and there is no place for insight.

Donk the cameraman and Graves, a Brit suffering from malaria, make it to a village ruled by an Afghan warlord. While the US military dominates in the background, the chance to make meaningful contact is elusive. Each man probes the other over his readiness to die, and yet what unfolds is unexpectedly cruel and futile.

Amanda Reese, an expert in irrigation delegated by the UN to investigate the dying Aral Sea, is more fastidious, less of an "asshole", than her two male colleagues. …