When Things Get Dark

A Mongolian Winter's Tale

Matthew Davis

St. Martin's Press

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At 23, Matt Davis moved to a remote Mongolian town to teach English.What he found when he arrived was a town—and a country—undergoing wholesale change from a traditional, countryside existence to a more urban, modern identity. When Things Get Dark documents these changes through the Mongolians Matt meets, but also focuses on the author's downward spiral into alcohol abuse and violence--a scenario he saw played out by many of the Mongolian men around him. Matt's self-destruction culminates in a drunken fight with three men that forces him to a hospital to have his kidneys X-rayed. He hits bottom in that cold hospital room, his body naked and shivering, a bloodied Mongolian man staring at him from an open door, the irrational thought in his head that maybe he is going to die there. His personal struggles are balanced with insightful descriptions of customs and interactions, and interlaced with essays on Mongolian history and culture that make for a fascinating glimpse of a mysterious place and people.

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Book Excerpts

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Prologue: The Stories I Learned I LEARNED THREE winter stories in Mongolia. The ones the Mon­golians told. The ones the foreigners told. And the ones I told myself.
The stories Mongolians told dealt with loss and rebirth. One begins with a herder riding on the steppe with his sheep and goats. The wind shifts, the sky grows dark, a blizzard pounds him and his herds off their path. Lost for a week, he sings to his  horse to keep both the animal and himself sane, a long song, an urtiin duu, a haunting, ghostlike melody drawn out in one breath from the mouth, like someone is literally

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Reviews

Praise for When Things Get Dark

"Both a raw personal examination and an insightful look at Mongolian history and culture, Davis’ illuminating memoir sheds light on a remote region." --Booklist
 
 "A lively, frank look into the Mongolian psyche...a work that offers a rare glimpse into a little-understood part of the world." --Kirkus Reviews

 “Matthew Davis’s portrait of Mongolia is riveting, insightful, and deeply honest.  He captures the timeless elements of this remarkable country ­--the glorious history, the wide-open landscapes ­--but he also writes about the forces that shape today’s Mongol society.  As a teacher he experiences it all firsthand: he lives in a nomad-style ger; he drinks too much, like the locals; he witnesses the mass migration to the cities and foreign countries.  He even finds himself caught up in a quarantine for the plague.  It’s rare for a young person to have such intimate contact with such a distant country, and even rarer for him to write about it so well.”-- Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving,  River Town, and Oracle Bones
 
 “Mongolia is a bewitching land, and Matt Davis captures the exotic and the quotidian aspects of living there in this sweet and utterly engaging book. Braving an outbreak of the plague, surviving in minus-40 degree cold, drinking vodka and fermented mare’s milk just like the locals, Davis looks past Mongolia’s desperate challenges and finds moments of touching humanity. Davis has a forgiving eye and a sharp pen. A lovely, memorable book.”--Seth Faison, author of South of the Clouds: Exploring the Hidden Realms of China

"When Things Get Dark is an intimate, sometimes ambivalent account of the terrible beauty and the sometimes squalid underbelly of modern Mongolia, by a young American who lived the real Mongolian life, including serious drinking, for two years. The warmth and hospitality of the Mongolian people shine through despite moments of desperation and despair, both his and theirs. It made me remember the coal and dung smoke and the mutton stew.  It made me want to go back."--Steve Bodio, author of Eagle Dreams and Querencia

 “WHEN THINGS GET DARK is a beautifully written, vivid book that presents a very well observed picture of Mongolian society. I was quite moved by many of the passages. The universal themes of love and growing up will appeal to people anywhere with or without an interest in exotic, far away Mongolia.” –Jasper Becker, author of Mongolia and Dragon Rising
 
"...a sincere account of good intentions gone awry and an entertaining splash of cultural anthropology." --Washingtonian

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About the Author

Matthew Davis

MATTHEW DAVIS is a MFA graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. A chapter of this book has won the 2005 Atlantic Monthly prize in nonfiction and another chapter was a "notable essay" in the 2006 Best American Travel Writing series. Matt lives in Washington, D.C.

Matthew Davis

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Available Formats and Book Details

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

Hardcover

Hardcover
St. Martin's Press
February 2010
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780312607739
ISBN10: 0312607733
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 320 pages, Plus one 8-page color photo insert
$35.99

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
St. Martin's Press
February 2010
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429957878
ISBN10: 1429957875
320 pages
$7.99
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