June 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Writing - Kyrgyzstan: Newsday: In "This Is Not Civilization," first-time novelist RPCV Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire "to help" brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kyrgyzstan: Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan : The Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan: June 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Writing - Kyrgyzstan: Newsday: In "This Is Not Civilization," first-time novelist RPCV Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire "to help" brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-53-195.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.53.195) on Monday, June 28, 2004 - 10:32 am: Edit Post

In "This Is Not Civilization," first-time novelist RPCV Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire "to help" brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul

In This Is Not Civilization, first-time novelist RPCV Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire to help brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul

In "This Is Not Civilization," first-time novelist RPCV Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire "to help" brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul

An American in Istanbul

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Evan Cornog HISTORIAN OF WHITE HOUSE MYTHOLOGY

The one-click critic

BY SUZY HANSEN

June 20, 2004

THIS IS NOT CIVILIZATION, by Robert Rosenberg. Houghton Mifflin, 312 pp., $24.

In "This Is Not Civilization," first-time novelist Robert Rosenberg describes the journey of Jeff Hartig, an American, whose curiosity and desire "to help" brings him from an Apache reservation in Arizona to a small village in Kyrgyzstan, and finally to the offices of a refugee placement service in Istanbul. A glance at Rosenberg's bio will tell you that he followed the same path as his protagonist -- Arizona, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey. This novel, quite obviously, is based on at least some of the experiences of the author. But what's interesting about "This Is Not Civilization" is that by the end, the concerns of the American have fallen by the wayside and the lives of the people that Jeff meets abroad have become immeasurably more important to this ambitious, sincere book. Jeff is gradually diminished as the larger world opens up to him.

Rosenberg's supporting characters are also more interesting than Jeff. There's Adam Dale, the wayward son of the Apache reservation's councilman, who is half-responsible for Jeff's abrupt departure from Arizona. Next comes Anarbek, the Kyrgyzstan man who serves as Jeff's Peace Corps host and owns a cheese factory that produces no cheese, along with his beautiful daughter, Nazira, who's too smart for her small town. In Istanbul, Jeff meets Oren, another American, and Melodi, a free-spirited Turkish woman. Toward the end of the novel, they all end up in Jeff's Istanbul apartment. Anarbek is there to make it rich; Nazira has followed her father to bring him home; Adam has fled the misery of the reservation. That this reunion of Jeff's past occurs in Istanbul, on the border of the West and the East, Europe and Asia, on the eve of the recent devastating Turkish earthquake, is one of Rosenberg's many lovely touches. The final destruction of this togetherness comes at a time when almost all of Rosenberg's characters finally feel optimistic about their lives.

Rosenberg dutifully catalogs the cultural details of these places and peoples. For example, in Rosenberg's Kyrgyzstan, "stealing women" and forcing them into marriage is commonplace. Rosenberg playfully describes how Anarbek "stole" his second wife and pulled her into his car: "She struggled. It occurred to him to let her go, but he reminded himself she was supposed to fight, that this was a sign of her honor ... he was uplifted by her muffled giggles, by the way she folded her arms across her chest and stared with calm resignation out the window." Of course, this tradition turns ugly if the woman is kidnapped by a man she doesn't love, as is the case with Nazira, who pays the price for resisting her suitor-thief.

But at times, plot and character take a backseat to cultural anthropology. Attempting to span five years and several time zones is not an easy task, and it's not until Rosenberg's characters reach Istanbul, when all five of them exist in one tiny apartment space, that their inner lives are forced to bump up against each other and take on distinctive shape. A sense of intimacy suddenly pervades the novel, something that the earlier chapters lacked. What we do discover about Jeff Hartig is that, like so much Western intervention, he's left behind a lot of heartache and exhausted himself in the process. "He felt he had nothing more to offer this world," the author writes. Jeff's foreign friends, changed by the American's presence, but not necessarily for the better, will simply go on with their sad, difficult lives in their own, perhaps "uncivilized," way. It's to Rosenberg's credit that he lets this reality speak for itself, without explanation or tidying up at the end.

Suzy Hansen is a writer in Brooklyn.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.




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Story Source: Newsday

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