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It starts with a standard conceit: "What I saw on my semester abroad." Alex Larson, a "wholesome-bordering-on-nerdy" Des Moines girl, interested in photography and what lies beyond her upstate New York college, spends a year in Nepal. While she's on a trekking trip, as a favor to Will, a charismatic American expat 13 years her senior, Alex contacts his friend Maya. The two young women meet, and under the cover of night Alex delivers Maya from traditional village life to the relative metropolis of Kathmandu, and Will's bachelor pad. The triumvirate bond over elaborate meals, pilgrimages and drugs; just before the house of postcards begins to topple, Alex reluctantly returns to college. She comes back four years later to find Nepal changed, and Maya has fallen in with a questionable crowd, disappearing for days at a time. On Falkland Road, Bombay's red-light district, Alex, armed with a camera and her wits, must confront the seedy underbelly of her fantasyland to find her friend. Equal parts coming-of-age quest and travelogue, this debut novel dazzles most with its deft descriptions, which transform an unimaginably foreign land into terra cognita. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.