Beyond the Book: Background information when reading God Lives In St. Petersburg

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God Lives In St. Petersburg

and Other Stories

by Tom Bissell

God Lives In St. Petersburg by Tom Bissell
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2006, 224 pages

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About the author & the Aral Sea: In 2001 Tom Bissell traveled throughout Uzbekistan, spending some time in Muynak. Forty years ago Muynak was a busy fishing port on the edge of the Aral Sea, which was formerly the fourth largest inland sea in the world but now, due to 40 years of Soviet irrigation policy, is mostly polluted desert. He recorded his thoughts and observations in a memoir, Chasing The Sea, published in 2003, which combined the story of his travels with a chronicle of Uzbekistan's culture and history. His second book, God Lives in St Petersburg, continues to explore Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia, but in the form of short stories instead of memoir.

The Aral Sea is disappearing because its two major sources, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were diverted by the Soviet Union in the 1960s in order to irrigate cotton plants. The desertification of a large area around the Sea is caused mainly by the many thousands of tons of salt and sand (estimated 200,000 tons/day) being carried from the dry sea-bed by the wind and dispersed over a 300 km area. The United Nations has estimated that the Aral Sea will essentially disappear by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse its decline. In 2003 construction began on a dike to enclose the smaller northern section, in the hope of saving at least that.

This article was originally published in February 2005, and has been updated for the January 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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