Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Things Get Dark : A Mongolian Winter's Tale
by Matthew Davis

I should have know better as soon as I saw Peter Hessler's one-line review on the outside of the book: "Matthew Davis's portrait of Mongolia is riveting, insightful, and deeply honest." I can't say that I agree with any of this.
Davis goes to Mongolia, as a Peace Corp volunteer, to teach English. He lives his life pretty much the way the people do. The students are not all that interested in learning much of anything and he is not allowed to fail any of them.
The Mongolians are fed up with their lives, so drinking and being drunk are the norm.
The most interesting parts of the book is when Davis writes about the history of the country and the culture.
One thing that I found really irritating was the absence of a pronunciation guide for all of the Mongolian words scattered throughout the text. At the end, there is a glossary, but that's all. I bring this up because of Chinggis Khan. How is this pronounced? Most of us know this revered man in Mongolia (everything is named for him) with his name spelled as Ghengis Khan. Being a language nut, this bothers me. How difficult would it have been, before the story began, to give a brief description of the linguistic nuances?
The book is badly in need of a good editor and was probably never proofread. There are many pages with entire words missing.
I am sure that most of us really have no need or desire to read about Mongolia. This morbid tale took care of that.

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