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God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  277 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Here are six fictional stories about Americans colliding with a remote and often perilous part 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.

On a hike through Kazakhstan, Jayne and Douglas’s ma
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published January 25th 2005 by Pantheon (first published 2005)
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American Gods by Neil GaimanAre You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoySmall Gods by Terry PratchettTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
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May 07, 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 16, 2010 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 07, 2015 Albert rated it it was amazing
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.

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
Jan 03, 2015 Erik rated it liked it
"Douglas finds himself thinking of music, of poetry, of themes and motifs building to sensible effect. But life is not like that. Life is chaos. People are horrifyingly alive and unknowable."
Aug 08, 2007 Bren rated it liked it
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
Jul 16, 2012 Marsha rated it it was ok
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
Jerry Rocha
Sep 12, 2015 Jerry Rocha rated it it was amazing
It's rare to find a short story collection so good that each story stands strong on it's own, but this one does. Excellent stuff here.
Mar 27, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it
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
Jun 07, 2009 Joanna rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 14, 2016 Cristy rated it really liked it
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.
Rob Shore
Jul 30, 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.
Feb 05, 2008 Tara rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 04, 2015 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
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.
Jan 19, 2013 Christine rated it it was ok
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.
Mar 04, 2008 Lou rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 01, 2010 Bruce rated it really liked it
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 09, 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.
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.
Jun 29, 2007 Janice rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone traveling in a former soviet republic
This is a great collection of stories. Some are very powerful and thought provoking. Especially if you live in the area.
Aug 22, 2007 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A few stories here made me see that he truly has some insights into the natures of men and women. I was very impressed.
Jan 29, 2008 Barrie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Travelers, fans of the short story
Six stories about cultural immersion and cultural detachment--a fast but thought-provoking read.
May 22, 2007 Katie rated it it was amazing
Very funny, deeply affecting short story collection. Most take place in and around middle Asia.
Amy Jenkins
Aug 08, 2008 Amy Jenkins rated it it was amazing
An opening paragraph can change the readers paradigm. Read title story.
Apr 10, 2009 Aaron rated it really liked it
Anyone who knows about the seemy underbelly of the FSU, will appreciate this.
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
Dec 04, 2008 Jennifer rated it liked it
a bit of a let-down after Bissell's wonderful "Chasing the Sea".
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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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