171 of 180 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2006
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.
117 of 123 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified 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.
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified 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. I will soon be starting Prince of the Marshes, which sounds like another winner; but to those of you out there looking for a Christmas gift or other, buy The Places In Between first, for you won't be disappointed. An excellent gift, especially for travellers!!!
Reviewed by Heather Marshall Negahdar (SUGAR-CANE 25/11/06)
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
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.
In a somewhat lighter vein, Stewart provides helpful travel tips for anyone who finds themselves in a fear-based Muslim nation, for example, assessing the likelihood of open land being mined if one sees sheep droppings, or the art of slicing a donkey's nostrils to allow easier breathing for the animal. Almost gratefully, he remains relatively agnostic when it comes to the U.S.-led invasion or the ongoing Iraqi conflict, but he cannot help but vent of some of his frustrations at the bureaucracy that has compromised efforts toward redevelopment. This is an insightful and eminently readable profile of a country whose true spirit has been hidden ironically by the excessive media coverage of the military-based carnage.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Try as I might, I couldn't quite enjoy "The Places In Between," Rory Stewart's travelogue from his walk across post-Taliban Afghanistan. Stewart is an amazing young man, brilliant and courageous, and his trek is an ambitious, noble effort. But his writing was so dispassionate, so resolutely matter-of-fact, that I quickly stopped caring.
Stewart is a young historian of high order, well-versed in the history of Afghanistan and other cultures of the region. He is also a throwback to an earlier age of British expeditionary, full of innate confidence that he can go just about anywhere and do alright by himself. "The Places In Between" is his chronicle of his walk through a broken culture and a broken people who don't appreciate their history nearly as much as Stewart does.
But Stewart does not bring the reader to react to the land or the people, other than to be mildly frustrated with the never-ending cast of pompous braggarts and scoundrels Stewart meets along the way. Stewart had plenty of genuine human interaction with the local folks, and yet he cannot muster a scintilla of the emotional connection that, say, George Packer conveyed about the Iraqis in "The Assassin's Gate." Whether Stewart is happy, or sad, or frustrated, or hurt, or exhausted, or sick, the prose never gets any more exciting than the sentence you're reading right now.
Kudos to Rory Stewart for his achievements - I honor them, and him. But his writing needs quite a bit of seasoning to make all that meat enjoyable. But he definitely has the talent to pull it off if he sets his mind to it, and I will give anything this young wanderer/historian puts to paper a chance.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2007
This book is essentially a travelogue of Rory Stewart's walk across most of Afghanistan, from Herat (near the Iranian border) and Kabul in early 2002, immediately after the fall of the Taliban.
I spent a year deployed in Afghanistan with the US Army, working daily with a battalion of Afghan National Army soldiers. While I didn't visit all same the places Mr. Stewart did, I could see some of his story within my own. We patrolled all over northeastern Afghanistan, meeting many Afghan leaders along the way and visiting sites of cultural signifigance. I found Rory's description of Afghan customs and culture to be spot-on with my own experiences.
However, I was more impressed by the knowledge the author clearly has of Afghanistan and southern Asia. This is by no means a history book. Mr. Stewart does not beat you over the head with his knowledge of history. Rather, it comes out in glimpes and glances in the form of topical references and tangents. As a student of history, I found these to be gems pepppered throughout the text. If only there was a text as readable as this on Afghan history; I'd love to read it.
My only complaint with the book would be that I feel some understanding of Afghanistan is necessary as a prerequisite to get maximum enjoyment from this book. Nonetheles, that would not stop me from recommending this book to anyone with an interest in Afghanistan or in traveling in troubled parts of the world. His style is easy to follow, self-effacing, yet intellectually stimulating.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The book was first published as a hardcover by Picador in England on 4 June 2004 (ISBN 0330486330). A second revised edition was published as a paperback in England on 1 April 2005 (ISBN 0330486349). On May 8 2006 a further revised American paperback edition was published by Harvest Books (ISBN 0156031566). An audio recording was made in 2006 narrated by Rory Stewart while he was in Kabul and published by Recorded Books (ISBN 1428116702) based on the Harvest Books edition. I believe all three books have seen slight improvements with each new edition.
The audibook version is highly recommend as a supplement to the text. It is narrated by Rory (from a studio in Kabul) and his pronunciations of Afghan names and places are priceless, as well as his overall character and tone.
Comments: Scottish author and historian Stewart walked across some of the most difficult mountain terrain in Afghanistan in the early winter months of 2002 right after 9/11 (and lived to tell about it). He saw a land of contrasts: a culture based on feudal-like systems living in mud huts -- but with modern weapons and vehicles. Villages were people never traveled more than a few miles from home their whole life -- but had seen international forces from the USSR, USA, NATO and elsewhere pass through. People who were one step away from starvation willingly giving food to a passing stranger -- then shooting at him for sport and fun the next.
Afghanistan has always been resistant to understanding, but Rory, by traveling and living with the mountain tribe people who account for most of the countries population, comes as close as any to pulling back the curtain and revealing the character of the country in their own words and actions. A classic of travel literature, anthropology.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
When I first heard of this book I thought that walking across Afghanistan was one of the most dangerous ways of travel I could think of. After reading the book, I discovered I was entirely correct.
Due to the author's bravery/stupidity an amazing book appears. I found his writing to be rich, descriptive, but balanced. The people of Afghanistan are not irrational Islamic terrorists, but neither are they a helpful, friendly, and trustworthy bunch, who always look out for the needs of a stranger.
While the author meets his share of noble people, he also runs into thieves, liars, and thugs. He includes enough historical context to make the story relevant while still keeping the book a travel work at its core. The author is a talented observer with a gift for clear, but engaging prose. I am glad he wrote this book, since I felt as if I made the journey, without every having to walk an inch into Afghanistan
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I wanted to read more about Afghanistan after reading a number of books about this country, so I picked up Rory Stewart's The Places In Between. This is an incredible tale about his journey, walking across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul in 2002.
Afghanistan was not Stewart's first journey on foot. The amazing part of his trek is not that he traveled between these two cities, but that he did it through the mountains during the winter. In this respect, he was traveling in the footsteps of the Emperor Babur of Mughal India, from whose journals he liberally quotes. Stewart wanted to stay away from "roads. Journalists, aid workers and tourists." The sights that he saw were not much different from what Babur saw in the 1500s. The other reason Stewart chose to walk through Afghanistan is that he considered it the "missing section of my walk, the place in between the deserts and the Himalayas, between Persian, Hellenic, and Hindu culture, between Islam and Buddhism, between mystical and militant Islam. I wanted to see where these cultures merged into one another and touched the global world."
During Stewart's journey, he depended on the generosity of strangers to provide him with food and shelter. Most of them lived a very poor existence with homes made of mud bricks, with dirt floors and no electricity or running water. Many times, food was simply tea and bread. But throughout, Stewart heard their fascinating stories. Many of them fought the Russians, the Taliban, or each other. He was also able to discover how so many civilizations converged in this beautiful but desolate country along what were the Spice Road and the Silk Road.
Stewart took a drawing pad with him, and The Places In Between is filled with interesting drawings of the places he visited, the people he met and some of the objects he saw. It is also filled with photographs of his travels as well as maps of each leg of his journey. Many people thought that Rory Stewart was bold, brave, and/or downright crazy to make this trip. But for whatever reason, his readers are richer for his efforts.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2007
... in search of Afghanistan. Stewart's odyssey, and description thereof, through the heart of Afghanistan is utterly amazing. What prompts a 30-something-year-old man to undertake such a journey by himself? Unfortunately, the reader never quite figures out why he is doing this. Wanderlust? Insatiable curiosity about a war-torn nation? Hatred of Scottish winters? Who knows. But, fortunately, there is so much else to like about this book that that hole does not diminish the overall effect. Stewart describes a nation, a people, and an existence that is hard for most Western readers to understand. The book has a several emotional peaks, including Stewart's description of the amazing Jam minaret, the sadness over what has been lost with the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas, two or three quite dangerous encounters within small villages, and, finally, a sad and ironic ending. Stewart is a wonderful, descriptive author. This book would have merited a fifth star had Stewart turned some of that observance on himself and described what motivated him to take this astounding trip.