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God Lives in St Petersburg

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  303 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
This stunning fictional debut by a wildly talented young writer presents six stories about Americans colliding with remote and often perilous parts of the world:

Two journalists, stranded in wartime Afghanistan, are taken in by a warlord who becomes the arbiter of their fates.

A female scientist investigating the Aral Sea disaster is drawn into a trap by a former KGB officer
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 15th 2006 by Faber Faber (first published 2005)
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Firstly I must admit that the primary appeal of this book to me was the cover - yes, I purchased and read this book on the basis of the cover, and the name - but isn't it great?

Six short stories by author Tom Bissell, all related to the theme of young Americans adjusting to their situations in Central Asia. The protagonists in each story end up acting differently than they would perhaps expect of themselves in these wartorn, ravaged, desolate or just neglected settings.
Despite being published i
Apr 06, 2007 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers
This book of short stories is for those who have tried to put a finger on the loneliness of long-term, immersive travel; it succeeds in describing experiences of emotional confusion and indecision; it is quiet but not dull; in short, this book is really good. However, I think it might hit home only for those who can directly identify with the experiences of the author (though the stories are fiction they are obviously closely tied to his own life), and is definitely for those not in the midst of ...more
Patrick McCoy
I saw that Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, was compared to Tom Bissell, and this alone made me curious about him. Then I realized, it was name that I thought I had heard before. Then I realized that I read an interesting piece by him in Harper’s about a trip he took to Vietnam with his father, who was friends with Philip Caputo (author of the Vietnam war memoir A Rumor of War-on my to read shelf). So when I saw a copy of God Lives In St. Petersburg, I snapped it up. It ...more
Aug 04, 2010 Andrea rated it really liked it
Written by an American man who spent some time in Uzbekistan, God Lives in St Petersburg is a collection of literary snapshots in the various ‘stans of Central Asia. It opens with ‘Death Defier’, which follows a couple of journalists and their local guide / translator in Afghanistan, and it was a bit of a punch in the face. I mean that in a good way — Bissell gets straight to the heart of the matter. All the stories felt authentic, especially the ones that involved Christian missionaries in one ...more
Apr 12, 2012 Tuck rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
a bit uneven collection of short stories, but the first one is worth it alone to pick up and read. "death defiers" about 3 journos in northern afghanistan in late 2001, so anarchy reigns. bissell wrote a very fine nonfiction about the aral sea (and did peace corps or something before that in the area?) Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia and hits all the high spots in this fiction (kazahkstan, uzbekistan, kyrgystan, tajikistan) with its fundos, sharpers, hopeless rus ...more
Besides being page turners, these stories are funny too. But they are ultimately tragic and dark.
"Death Defier" was written in third person yet remarkably close to the main character, Donk, narrating each of his thoughts and emotions. At the end of the story, Donk dies. It is jarring, almost as if at the end of a first person story the narrator dies. I think it was deliberately done though. It is almost as hard for the reader to accept Donk's death as it was for Donk.
In an Author's Note, Bisse

Life is chaos. People are horrifyingly alive and unknowable.

He cannot decide if he is a kind, decent person who sometimes behaves terribly or a terrible person given to outbreaks of decency.

"Death Defier" -- Afghanistan, journalists, warlords, car accident, malaria
"Aral" -- Uzbekistan, female biologist, stranded
"Expensive Trips Nowhere" -- Kazakhstan, boulder-hopping married couple and guide
"The Ambassador's Son" -- Uzbekistan, the son and a failed missionary on his way out of town
"God Liv
Aug 08, 2007 Bren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As novelists grapple with how to represent that thing we call "globalization" some of them are writing books that portray americans abroad losing their innocence in the face of what their country's foreign policies have done--and Bissell is interested in his character's different modes of complicity as well. These stories strand their protagonists in some seriously bleak places, mostly in central asia, but america is presented as a pretty barren space too. Some of the stories didn't work for me, ...more
Jun 30, 2012 Marsha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I recently returned from a trip to Central Asia and was looking for more insight into the area. Can't say I enjoyed these stories but couldn't stop reading them.

This book includes a group of short stories set in the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union except for the last semi-autobiographical story set in the US. Bissell's stories are bleak and he focuses on the darker side of man's nature. Without exception, I found Bissell's characters to be unlikeable and ill prepared for thei
Jun 06, 2008 Joanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Positively brilliant. The stories in this collection make me feel so conscious of how appallingly lucky we middle class Americans are, surrounded by "luxury problems" of a too-full to-read shelf, not enough me time, a relentless search for perfect produce, always striving to lose those 10 vanity pounds. We don't even know what hardship is, most of the time. Each story is so inventive and so real and true to the spirit of the place in which it is set. I love Tom Bissell! Thanks to NPR's Selected ...more
Mar 21, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After recently seeing the movie, "The Loneliest Planet", I was curious to read the short story the movie was based on hence, "God Lives In St. Petersburg" on my reading list. The story "Expensive Trips Nowhere" which was the basis for the movie actually ended up being my least favorite of Bissell's stories, ironically. All the stories take place in Central Asia a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union and they were all definitely interesting and thought provoking. Short stories are not usu ...more
Apr 07, 2015 Albert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Six stories. Each set in Central Asia, except for the last one. Each features an American, far from the known and the familiar. These stories emphasize moods that are reminiscent of the disconnection and the emotional lassitude found in the characters of the works of Paul Bowles. These stories are dark, disturbing, and beautifully written. They are not for the faint of heart; but if you want to go somewhere writers very rarely take you, come along for the ride.
Rob Shore
Jul 28, 2007 Rob Shore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: MPCV's
Shaddows of characters wandering through never-begun and only partially resolved story-lines. In the space of a few pages, the striking lonliness of the stories' characters manages to strike at the sympathetic part of you which half enjoys being made to cringe. These stories of expats living in Central Asia will be enjoyed by those who simply enjoy good writing and ring painfully true for those of us who live something close to the lives portrayed.
Aug 13, 2013 Tamual rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenally written, intense and morbid stories. I found this book to be captivating in a way that makes one unable to understand how someone could not enjoy reading. Very vivid story telling which makes reading fun. This is not a book for all audiences. It is dark and at times repulsive in its descriptions of sin and humanity. 4.5 stars for exceptional writing.
May 02, 2010 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's so rare a story collection is this solid cover to cover. Nothing even approaching a clunker in the bunch. Also, while it's generally foolish to assume anything in a fictive work is true, I felt like I learned a whole bunch about Central Asia. Either way, Bissell is a great journalist writing great fiction here.
Allegro come masticare sabbia, l'inguaribile ottimismo di Bissell accompagnerà le vostre vacanze facendovi immaginare luoghi lontani e esotici, in un caleidoscopio di solitudine e amarezza che non potranno non farvi apprezzare la spiaggia assolata in cui state leggendo.

Insomma - amarezza a palate, però gran bei racconti.
Jan 07, 2008 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These were wonderful stories! Bissell has a way with figurative language that is really unlike anything I've read recently -- it's very good. The subject matter is basically modern Americans in Central Asia. I don't unusally enjoy that subject, I'm more into the Victorian age in American and England, but I thought these stories were both interesting and engaging.
Dec 22, 2015 Cristy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: peacecorps-grp
Short stories about Americans in Central Asia and former Soviet Union. Experience in this part of the world would bring a different reading experience.
One story was adapted to the film The Loneliest Planet - 4 stars for the film too.
Well-crafted short stories paired with well-crafted misogyny. I picked up this book after seeing Julia Loktev's "The Loneliest Planet," which is based on his story, "Expensive Trips Nowhere." Interesting to see the story interpreted into to a film, but not an especially provocative collection.
Jan 18, 2010 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked it; Susan didn't. It's pretty dark, but contains some wry, bitter humor. Most of the stories take place in the Central Asian republics of the former USSR. It doesn't give much hope for progress in that area, at least in the Western sense.
Sep 08, 2007 G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-ground
Bleak and set in a little-traveled area of the world. I have a lot of respect for Bissell's writing and his knowledge of central Asia, but I wasn't taken in by the stories as much as I would have liked.
Feb 27, 2008 Lou rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
really strong, tight stories set in the former soviet rebublics, touching on a variety of issues of being away from home and in unfamiliar lands, and the instinct to leave home that brought the characters there. the final story also hits home, of failed reuniting.
Michael O'leary
Good stories that have some gravity.
Jan 15, 2009 Erika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit good.
Feb 20, 2008 hamed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
در ایران با نام آرال منتشر شده
یک داستان با هدف
اصلا لذتی از آن نبردم
Jan 11, 2009 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who knows about the seemy underbelly of the FSU, will appreciate this.
Satish Terala
May 08, 2014 Satish Terala rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-acad
Interesting, but tad too long to hold my attention.
a bit of a let-down after Bissell's wonderful "Chasing the Sea".
Jim Coughenour
The title story alone is worth the book. Bissell is something of a sadist with his characters, reminding me of the fabulous stories by Rachel Ingalls, but his twisted humor redeems everything.
Amalia Temperini
Oct 15, 2012 Amalia Temperini rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Scritto bene, ma troppo noioso per i miei gusti.
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Tom Bissell (born 1974) is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
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