The Unpossessed City: Book summary and reviews of The Unpossessed City by Jon Fasman

The Unpossessed City

by Jon Fasman

The Unpossessed City by Jon Fasman X
The Unpossessed City by Jon Fasman
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2008
    320 pages
    Genre: Thrillers

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Book Summary

In this taut, atmospheric novel by the author of The New York Times bestseller The Geographer’s Library, a young American finds himself adrift in Russia amid murderous bureaucrats, Central Asian mobsters, and a conspiracy to sell Soviet bioweapons to the highest bidder.

Jim Vilatzer was going nowhere—working in his parents’ restaurant, sleeping in his childhood bedroom—until he ran up gambling debts that forced him to go somewhere far away—fast. He uses his Russian-language skills (learned from his émigré grandparents) to cadge a job in Moscow finding and interviewing survivors of the Gulag. At first, he only finds that they are well hidden and leery of sharing their horrific stories, but he also discovers that he’s falling in love with their homeland. He is intoxicated by Moscow’s brooding, ironic atmosphere, its vast reservoir of entrepreneurial energy, its otherworldly churches and majestic subways. On any given day, petty indignities are more than offset by random acts of kindness.

Jim’s taste for gambling is satisfied merely by living in a city that teems with risk and promise. So he blithely accepts a big win when a chance meeting with a lovely aspiring actress leads not only to romance but also to her grandfather, a concentration camp survivor who does actually want to share his story. Soon Jim is on a roll, scoring interviews with four other survivors in as many days, learning harrowing and fascinating things about bygone atrocities and feeling like he has finally found where he belongs.

But his apparent success has earned him the attention of Russia’s Interior Ministry and the CIA. Jim has become an unwitting cog in a scheme to spirit Soviet scientists and their deadly secrets out of Russia and into the hands of the highest bidder. Pursued ruthlessly by both sides, he must flee again, this time to the lawless border country, where an economist-cum- mobster is preparing to peddle the world’s most dangerous technologies to whichever terrorists can muster the cash first.

Like Donna Leon’s novels of Venice or John Burdett’s Bangkok series, The Unpossessed City makes of its setting an intricate, irresistible character. With taut, ingenious plotting and incisive prose, Fasman engages our most visceral fears and throws brilliant light on our most primal drives—to feel that we belong, to find love, to become better than we are.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"The bio-thriller aspect of the plot provides a loose frame for Fasman's real concerns: Jim's personal, romantic and espionage relationships and, more importantly, the trials and tribulations of the new Russia itself." - Publishers Weekly.

"There is enough material for two books, but the disparate parts don't mesh, and Fasman's frantic conclusion seems forced." - Library Journal.

"Great fun in a great, if grim, place." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Jon Fasman was born in Chicago in 1975 and grew up in Washington, D.C. He was educated at Brown and Oxford Universities and has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., New York, Oxford, and Moscow. His writing has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, The New York Times Magazine, The Moscow Times, and The Economist. His first novel, The New York Times bestseller The Geographer's Library, was published in more than a dozen languages.

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