Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

God Lives in St. Petersburg

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

God Lives in St. Petersburg

Article excerpt

God Lives in St. Petersburg, by Tom Bissell. Pantheon, January 2005. $20

Bissell's inaugural collection of witty, worldly stories proves a fine companion for his nonfiction debut, Chasing the Sea, in which the author chronicles his return to Uzbekistan and his travels there alongside a native guide and interpreter to the catastrophic, nearly waterless Aral Sea. Only one tale in God Lives in St. Petersburg, however, is set in this region where Bissell once worked as a Peace Corps volunteer: aptly titled, "Aral" depicts a defunct KGB officer's bitter ensnarement of an environmental biologist commissioned by the UN to study the ecological disaster. Instead Bissell's protagonists, most of them Americans abroad, share a common emotional and intellectual geography-"the boundless naivete Americans had for places that weren't America"-that seems to dissolve the boundaries between stories and unite the collection nearly seamlessly.

In "Death Defier" (originally published in the Summer 2004 issue of VQR), two journalists marooned in Afghanistan must rely upon the dubious goodwill of a warlord who sends one on a highly suspicious journey to save the other. In "Expensive Trips Nowhere," a couple who actually pays for a hike through Kazakhstan finds their marriage at a breaking point once the husband fails to protect his wife from bandits, and their guide, a war hero, later takes an interest in her. …

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