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Tea of Ulaanbaatar by Christopher R. Howard

Tea of Ulaanbaatar (edition 2011)

by Christopher R. Howard

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399415,197 (3.25)12
Title:Tea of Ulaanbaatar
Authors:Christopher R. Howard
Info:Seven Stories Press (2011), Edition: NONE, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library

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Tea of Ulaanbaatar by Christopher R. Howard



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Tea of Ulaanbaatar provides a stark and unforgettable look at Mongolia in the late 1990s, a nation suffering through the transition from Soviet communism to Western materialism. It is a virtually lawless nation where decay, disease, corruption and violence coexist with fashionable restaurants and trendy night clubs. [return][return]The principal character, named Warren, is a disillusioned American Peace Corps volunteer. Joining the Peace Corps merely to escape unemployment, his goal is simply to endure his tenure in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar where he teaches English. His routine forever changes when he is introduced to "tsus," a drug taken in the form of tea that is unknown outside Mongolia. [return][return]Tsus not only provides immediate euphoria, but prolonged use makes the user assertive, immune to physical suffering, and subject to hallucinatory dreams of future events. It is the ancient secret behind the Mongol's startling success in conquering almost all of Asia in the Middle Ages. It is also, metaphorically, a symbol of the dangers of cultural contamination. [return][return]Author Christopher R. Howard's prose is fluid, eschewing quotation marks yet effortless to read. I found Tea of Ulaanbaatar a fascinating and thoughtful novel. It would especially appeal to anyone interested in modern Asia or the problems of globalization. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 28, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Tea of Ulaanbaater is a taut and proficient story of a disillusioned and corruptible Peace Corps volunteer whose life is disintegrating in Ulaanbaater, the capital of Mongolia. Christopher Howard writes about this locale with some authority as he was a Peace Corps volunteer in an aborted mission to Mongolia. His protagonist, Warren, much like Howard it appears, is revolted at first by what he sees. Warren, and his obsession with cleanliness, perhaps a self-delusion of faultless superiority, is eventually overrun by filth and vermin until he is as base as the very worst villain. Can he wash away his sin? Can he be redeemed?

Ulaanbaater seems a fitting location for moral breakdown as the former Soviet satellite described by Howard is itself withering from parasitical opportunists and criminals. The local upper class steal foreign aid, the police are drunken louts, criminality is rife, foreign profiteers prey upon human weakness and foreign volunteers steal much needed medicine and supplies for their own personal cravings. The local populace suffers immeasurably.

Warren’s own curiosity and spiritual hunger lead him to partake of the primary distractions available, sex and drugs. Neither relieve the pangs of emptiness until he learns of the mysterious and mythical “blood tea”, tsus. Tsus is a kind of hallucinogenic plant, perhaps akin to marijuana or opium, which can be drunk like a tea or smoked.

Tea is a recurring theme in the novel. Various descriptions of teas are interwoven in the narrative. They seem to act as a kind of ballast for the magical properties of tsus. Tsus seems to taste differently to different persons or at different times. It creates euphoria and leads to dreams of various types, some of which lead the user to the belief of being able to see the future. Once tsus-induced dreaming occurs, it becomes difficult to determine what is real or what is possible. Tsus becomes a portal to the horrors and ecstasies of imagination.

If there is a real fault in the novel, it is the author’s susceptibility to sensationalism. Hot Mongolian chicks, Russian thugs, extreme violence and drugs seem primarily a young man’s preoccupation of what is interesting about life in a place. In this work, they effectively drive the plot but also detract from what is often some very fine writing.

Nevertheless, this is an impressive debut to a promising career as a novelist. ( )
  lacenaire | Jan 16, 2012 |
Tea of Ulaanbaatar byChristopher R. Howard has elements of Catch 22 and the tragi-comic violence of a Quentin Tarantino flick, It revolves around a group of Peace Corp ne'r-do-well nihilists stranded by choice in post Soviet Mongolia. That about sums it all up. I enjoyed this book and was a little disappointed with the ending. ( )
  mckall08 | Sep 21, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Christopher Howard's writing is crisp and evocative. Even during the most feverish, drugged-out passages of the book, the action, the characters and the insanity that surrounds them can all be clearly seen; this suffuses “Tea of Ulaanbaatar” with the feeling of a well-produced, late-night docudrama about the impending end of the world. At the same time, there is much here I didn't want to see clearly: the disparaging, prejudiced portrayals of the frequently-evil Mongol people; the morally bankrupt Peace Corps volunteers; the immaculately decrepit city and surroundings. In total, an easy, occasionally uncomfortable read that didn't quite work for me. ( )
  the_darling_copilots | Sep 15, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I finished this book a few days ago and I've been trying to figure out what to write about it. I've never read anything like it before, so I've been at a loss for words. And although it was a short book, I found it difficult to read for long bouts of time; however, when I wasn't reading it, I longed for it much like the titular tea.

Howard writes like a fever dream feels. No quotation marks and things slide seamlessly from one scene to another. And towards the end of the novel, the reader even looses grip on what is just real and what Warren is hallucinating himself. It's best just to go with it and see where the journey takes you. Don't fight the novel, prose, plot: follow it through and come out the other end.

It's more than just a modern day "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" though. There are the themes of globalization and colonization. Or democracy bringing. This book gives us a glimpse of how some parts/people of the world view Americans coming in and "fixing" their country.

Overall, an amazing little book. I'm looking forward to what else Howard puts to paper. ( )
  Spoerk | Sep 5, 2011 |
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When a man is riding through this desert by night and for some reason he gets separated from his companions and wants to rejoin them, he hears spirit voices talking to him as if they were his companions, sometimes even calling him by name. Often these voices lure him away from the path and he never finds it again, and many travelers have gotten lost and died because of this. Sometimes in the night travelers hear a noise like the clatter of a great company of riders away from the road. . . . Often you fancy you are listening to the strains of many instruments, especially drums, and the clash of arms. For this reason bands of travelers make a point of keeping very close together.

--Marco Polo, Travels (c. 1300), on the Gobi
The author wishes to express his appreciation to CPL, JT, McS's EH and his friend JF.
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In his debut novel, Christopher Howard travels to the furthest and rarely seen reaches of the world, Mongolia. Warren is a disaffected Peace Corps volunteer who flees life in late capitalist America to find himself stationed in the post-industrialist urban hell of Mongolia. Needing to find an escape from his escape, Warren seeks solace in 'tsus', the mysterious blood tea that may be the final revenge of the defeated Khans - or that may be only a powerful hallucinogen operating on an uneasy mind - as a phantasmagoria of violence slowly envelops him.… (more)

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