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The Places In Between Paperback – May 8, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We never really find out why Stewart decided to walk across Afghanistan only a few months after the Taliban were deposed, but what emerges from the last leg of his two-year journey across Asia is a lesson in good travel writing. By turns harrowing and meditative, Stewart's trek through Afghanistan in the footsteps of the 15th-century emperor Babur is edifying at every step, grounded by his knowledge of local history, politics and dialects. His prose is lean and unsentimental: whether pushing through chest-high snow in the mountains of Hazarajat or through villages still under de facto Taliban control, his descriptions offer a cool assessment of a landscape and a people eviscerated by war, forgotten by time and isolated by geography. The well-oiled apparatus of his writing mimics a dispassionate camera shutter in its precision. But if we are to accompany someone on such a highly personal quest, we want to know who that person is. Unfortunately, Stewart shares little emotional background; the writer's identity is discerned best by inference. Sometimes we get the sense he cares more for preserving history than for the people who live in it (and for whom historical knowledge would be luxury). But remembering Geraldo Rivera's gunslinging escapades, perhaps we could use less sap and more clarity about this troubled and fascinating country.(May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Stewart, a resident of Scotland, has written for the New York Times Magazine and the London Review of Books, and he is a former fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In January 2002, having just spent 16 months walking across Iran, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, Stewart began a walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. Although the Taliban had been ousted several weeks earlier, Stewart was launching a journey through a devastated, unsettled, and unsafe landscape. The recounting of that journey makes for an engrossing, surprising, and often deeply moving portrait of the land and the peoples who inhabit it. Stewart relates his encounters with ordinary villagers, security officials, students, displaced Taliban officials, foreign-aid workers, and rural strongmen, and his descriptions of the views and attitudes of those he lived with are presented in frank, unvarnished terms. Nation building in Afghanistan remains a work in progress, and this work should help those who wish to understand the complexities of that task. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st edition (May 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156031566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rory Stewart has written for the New York Times Magazine, Granta, and the London Review of Books, and is the author of The Places in Between. A former fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the British government for services in Iraq. He lives in Scotland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

172 of 181 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on June 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Mr. Stewart has written an entertaining account of his walk across Afghanistan in 2002. The country was in shambles, the Taliban had just fallen and the Twin Towers had fallen a few months ago. As a nation, Afghanistan doesn't exist -- just a collection of warlords ruling their fiefdoms and encroaching each other's territories. So Mr. Stewart enters the county from Iran without a visa as if he was climbing Mount Everest -- because it was there.

The author is a superb storyteller and once the book has started, the reader will not be able to put it down. His writing style is conversational, as if he just arrived home and is telling you of his recent adventures. Why Harvest Books did not put this book out in hardback is beyond me. The reader should be aware that his next travel book "The Prince of the Marshes," will be out in August, 2006 where Mr. Stewart decided to move on to a less dangerous country than Afghanistan -- he went to Iraq.
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119 of 125 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 25, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Writing with the understated humor in the best of Magnus Mills' novels (Restraint of Beasts, All Quiet on the Orient Express), Stewart accounts his long, arduous trek on foot through the brutal landscape of Afghanistan. Thought to be a spy, he is often accompanied by mysterious "guards" hired by the new government to supervise Stewart's meanderings. The conflict between Stewart and these guards provides much of the book's humor. But then about a third into the book, Stewart is offered a dog, a huge bear-like creature who is described as wise and weary. The dog, whom Stewart names "Babur," has been abused and neglected all his life and Stewart adopts him and determines to take Babur with him back to Scotland. For me, Stewart's tender relationship with the endearing dog Babur is the heart of the book. It will make you weep. This storyline alone makes the book worth reading. Of course, this book is much more than a man meets dog story. It is a firsthand account of the grotequeries that seethe within a country in a state of violent upheaval.
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Heather Negahdar on November 25, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Someone in Kabul told me a crazy Scotsman walked from Herat to Kabul right after the fall of the Taliban"

Thanks for the book. For it was indeed a journey of great spirit and determination. Mr. Stewart was well prepared for this trip with vitamins and various medications he knew would be necessary to successfully complete this challenge; ibuprofen, antibiotics, just name it and he had it; sharing with the villagers he met on his way when they saw what he had and begged him.

Well written, well told. I was truly impressed with how hospitable the people of Afghanistan were; those whom he encountered and offered him rest and meals and at times water to wash with, at their various humble abodes where he was invited to stay for the night. Even through they understood little English, Mr. Stewart was able to communicate to them by speaking Persian. I love reading about anything in the Eastern and Asian side of the world, so I was with him all the way. I felt like I was alongside him as he climbed those steep slopes and when he walked on the flat valleys. I drank tea with Mr. Stewart from glass cups, ate stale bread with him and soup, and enjoyed the rest at the end of the day, sleeping on a carpet or just on the floor.

The attention given to him was enormous as he persevered onwards. My main concern was just before he got to Kabul when he had to travel through the deep powdery snow which was known to cause frostbite, making it necessary to amputate limbs for some in the past. I held my breath as he and his dog companion Babur made it out of the snow covered mountains, and alas into another bright day. God bless you Rory Stewart.
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Format: Paperback
Walking across central Asia without ruminating at length about the political and military crossfire would seem like an odd diversionary tactic by a writer any less assured than Rory Stewart. However, the Scottish author manages to evoke a powerful sense of what Afghanistan was like during his arduous, often moving trek through the wartorn country in 2002. Unlike Chris Ayres' humorous adventure of being embedded with the troops in Iraq in his blistering account, "War Reporting for Cowards", the then-29-year old Stewart is more straightforward with a true adventurer's spirit and an anthropologist's eye, as he set out on his own with his wooden staff through the central mountain range to Kabul. His immersion into the country was obviously aided incalculably by his fluency in Dari, which is the Afghan dialect of Persian, and his in-depth knowledge of the cultural custom and history of the country.

There is not a whit of romanticism in the author's vision, as he shares his experiences with people who have been grouped categorically by the news media with the hard-line Taliban. The most impressive aspect of the book is his ability to provide unique, almost idiosyncratic personalities to everyone he meets from the warlord Ismail Khan to his three Afghan traveling partners to a gregarious village headman to a war-beaten dog who becomes Stewart's constant companion. He names him Babur after the 16th-century Muslim emperor who traveled across Afghanistan to found the Mughal dynasty of India. Carrying the emperor's autobiography, the author draws compelling parallels with his own experiences and describes the Afghan people with becalming respect and admiration even if the ongoing threat of violence has hardened some of their sensibilities.
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