Comment: Six stories set in Central Asia, one of them
a Pushcart Prize winner, written with deadpan irony and packing
quite a punch: Bissell's stories journey through Afghanistan,
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to some of the most deeply foreign places
on earth, with each story told through the eyes of Westerners - such
as two journalists stranded in wartime Afghanistan, a missionary struggling with his faith, or a female scientist investigating the Aral Sea - a particularly moving story (see the sidebar for more about the Aral Sea).
Publishers Weekly gives the collection a starred review saying 'Bissell never flinches as he looks straight into the starved hearts of his characters. In these chilling stories of a region ravaged by war, exile and neglect, desperation drives men and women to do the otherwise unthinkable, and no one is quite forgiven for their transgressions.'
Interesting fact: 'Stan' is an ancient Farsi/Persian word meaning 'country'/'land of'. In other words Afganistan is the land of the Afghans, Kurdistan is the land of the Kurds, etc. The exception to this is Pakistan, formed in 1947. Pakistan is an acronym based on the countries who formed it: Panjab, Afghania, Kashmir (PAK). Different sources contradict each other with regard to whether the remaining letters represent countries, and if so which. According to the Wikipedia encyclopedia, the word was coined by Cambridge (UK) student and Muslim nationalist, Choudhary Rahmat Ali, in 1933, and is an acronym of Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan (providing the tan); the 'i' being an addition to make the word sound more natural in English. In Persian, pak also means pure, so Parkistan can also be translated as 'the land of the pure'.
This review 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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