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The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan [Kindle Edition]

Kim Barker
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Hardcover $21.32  
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Book Description

A true-life Catch-22 set in the deeply dysfunctional countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by one of the region’s longest-serving correspondents.

Kim Barker is not your typical, impassive foreign correspondent—she is candid, self-deprecating, laugh-out-loud funny. At first an awkward newbie in Afghanistan, she grows into a wisecracking, seasoned reporter with grave concerns about our ability to win hearts and minds in the region. In The Taliban Shuffle, Barker offers an insider’s account of the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, chronicling the years after America’s initial routing of the Taliban, when we failed to finish the job.

When Barker arrives in Kabul, foreign aid is at a record low, electricity is a pipe dream, and of the few remaining foreign troops, some aren’t allowed out after dark. Meanwhile, in the vacuum left by the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban is regrouping as the Afghan and Pakistani governments floun­der. Barker watches Afghan police recruits make a travesty of practice drills and observes the disorienting turnover of diplomatic staff. She is pursued romantically by the former prime minister of Pakistan and sees adrenaline-fueled col­leagues disappear into the clutches of the Taliban. And as her love for these hapless countries grows, her hopes for their stability and security fade.

Swift, funny, and wholly original, The Taliban Shuffle unforgettably captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a war zone.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

Kim Barker was The Chicago Tribune's South Asia Bureau Chief from 2004 to 2009, much of which she spent living in and reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban Shuffle comprises her recollections of these years, but make no mistake: this is not your parents' war correspondent's memoir. In fact, to hear this charismatic debut author tell of life in war-torn Kabul during these years, you'd think it was a more-or-less non-stop party. Journalism is famously known as a business for which "if it bleeds, it leads," and with a fresh war raging in Iraq, Barker initially faced long stretches of relative quiet. As a result, an absurd, often promiscuous subculture grew up among her fellow reporters. (Think M*A*S*H with a dash of Catch-22.) Of course, it wasn't all fun, games, and the occasional heavy petting. Barker's reporting eventually brings her into contact with warlords, fundamentalists, and drug kingpins, and she does get blood on her hands (quite literally). As the action heats up and the Taliban begins slowly to regroup, she finds herself reporting on and fending off a host of unsavory types, from anonymous gropers in crowded streets to former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who woos her shamelessly, breaking all manner of internationally recognized rules of professional decorum. After five years of these "Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Barker finally returns to the States with a one-of-a-kind memoir, a true story that's rife with both black humor and brutal honesty about the absurdities of war. --Jason Kirk

From Booklist

War correspondent Barker first started reporting from Afghanistan in 2003, when the war there was lazy and insignificant. She was just learning to navigate Afghan culture, one caught between warring factions, and struggling to get space in her newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Lulled into complacency, everyone from the U.S. military to the Afghan diplomatic corps to the Pakistani government stumbled as the Taliban regrouped. Very frank and honest, Barker admits a host of mistakes, including gross cultural ignorance that often put her in danger even as she found Afghanistan similar in some ways to Montana, her home state, what with �bearded men in pickup trucks stocked with guns and hate for the government.� She reports a string of characters: an amorous Pakistani former prime minister, a flashy Afghan American diplomat, an assortment of warlords, drug lords, fundamentalists, politicians, and fellow correspondents struck by wanderlust and plagued by messy personal lives�all of them against a backdrop of declining war coverage in declining American newspapers. A personal, insightful look at covering an ambivalent war in a complicated region. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details

  • File Size: 703 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385533314
  • Publisher: Anchor (March 22, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004EPZ48U
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,556 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointed January 20, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I started this book with high hopes. I've read other books by first hand reporters in war zones, and found they often can be filled with a humanistic view of situations and share insights as to what really is going on in the war and society. This book had relatively few of these. The author was stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and was present during many key events in both countries, and had access to and meetings with very key officials, including a "dating" proposal from the former prime minister of Pakistan. Yet, the book is more focused on her trouble with relationships, or what she wore, and some of the other strange events and adventures she lived through. Although these events and adventures could have added interesting color to the overall experience, I found that the book was much more like a diary written for catharsis than it was a book that shared any insights or meaning. Again, perhaps a mismatch of expectations, but overall I found the book relatively uninteresting, and would highly recommend "Every Man in this Village is a Liar" instead.Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really enjoyed "The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker. A sign of how much I enjoyed it is I am recommending it to people as much as possible.

Barker is a journalist. This is her view of Afghanistan & Pakistan during the last 8 years or so. She does some reporting of the situation but mostly Shuffle is just that, a 'shuffle' of personal stories. The kind that don't make the news but make for good stories that stick in your brain.

One of the most haunting isn't even about the conflict but when she relates that she is relaxing for a Christmas holiday. She, like myself, hasn't heard yet of the tsunami that hit in 2004. That little anecdote won me over because it showed how fast things move in her world.

What I appreciated most is that Barker relates truly funny stories but humor is always best when it is laced with a kind of truthful melancholy. there is something absurd in how she describes how men in Afghanistan are so used to fighting that even when they talk of a day when they won't be fighting, she's been around long enough among them that she, nor others, believe them.

That is how this book rolls. It is funny, absurd, realistic, non-judgmental, filled with friendships, observations of corrupt and corruptible, frustrations and small victories, but mostly about how an unlikely person grew to love what seems like an unlovable place.

It is definitely a keeper for me.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self Absorbed and Whiny July 15, 2011
This is a self-absorbed journalist's book about her time in Afghanistan. It's all about Kim. In one passage she teases another writer, saying he's the sort of person who would write a book called "My War" without any sense of irony. The irony, of course, is that Barker has written just such a book.

Readers will find no insights into Afghanistan, Pakistan, the conflicts, the history, or the societies. Instead they'll learn of the author's participation in alcohol-fueled toga parties among the Kabul-based journalists. They'll learn little about the political consequences of suicide bombings, but will hear about the author's feelings when she races to cover them. They'll discover nothing about the roots of Afghans' social conservatism, but will get an earful of Barker's sanctimony when --in the final handful of pages-- she criticizes everybody from Karzai to the U.S. soldiers to all journalists except herself for knowing nothing about Afghanistan. Again, all without a sense of irony. Without the sense that she's written little more than a subjective little diary full of contradictions, emotion-filled reactions, and whiny platitudes.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughing or crying? Mostly both, at the same time ... January 7, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This girl had no clue. She was a mess. She was disorganized, in a crappy relationship, did not know what was going on around her, was ignorant and arrogant. Then she flew to Afghanistan, acted even more clueless, insulting and arrogant. Then, she developed some interest in the country, and later downright fell in love with it. And that changed her. The arrogance disappeared, and was replaced by respect for other people, other cultures. She became a war junkie during that time, did some seriously stupid things, but she matured, became a real grown up. She ended this chapter of her life with having a clue.
That is the story Kim Barker tells in this book. The story of personal growth, interwoven with her adventures as a foreign correspondent for a Chicago newspaper.
The stories she has to tell do not reveal any big surprises about Afghanistan, the war there, the Taliban or the US handling of all that mess. There are other books out there, which already dealt with those aspects. What makes this book stand out amongst them is the unique perspective of a somewhat naive American girl, who was thrown into this alien world with no preparation at all. She eventually learns to get a grip on this strange world, and on herself. She learns, matures, and lets the reader take part in this process.
Some adventures she describes are downright hilarious, others are very sad, some are a bit strange, but all are interesting. Her writing style is not the most polished one can imagine, but it gets the message across. She is a no frills person, sometimes harsh, sometimes brash, and that is beautifully reflected in her writing style.
The book is very entertaining, especially for someone like me, who has read about half a doyen books about the current Afghanistan war, most of them are more serious historical and political scholarly works.
This book tells the tale from a refreshingly different, very personal perspective.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Lucia Huntington
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Published 2 months ago by Good
5.0 out of 5 stars Humor in war time
Enjoyed reading this book. Discovered that Kim Barker was a friend from Billings, MT in the early 80's. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lorraine S. Case
2.0 out of 5 stars Much like a diary - some interesting parts
Much like a diary - some interesting parts. Was not interested in all her personal relationships with other journalists. Liked the beginning -some witty cracks. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Z
5.0 out of 5 stars The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Excellent book from a unique (female war reporter) perspective. This is one half history and one half biography. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. Read more
Published 12 months ago by David P. Long
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
This was both fun and educational reading. Loved Ms. Barker's writing style. I'd recommend it to anyone who's wondered about what Afghanistan and Pakistan is like for foreigners... Read more
Published 13 months ago by liselotte c. draney
1.0 out of 5 stars It's no laughing matter when you fail at being funny.
One of my writing professors once shared, "if I ask you to write about a tomato - yes, a tomato - and if instead, I come away knowing what you look like... Read more
Published 13 months ago by J
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! Highly informative & readable.
I learned more about the war in Afghanistan from this book than I have from all the news coverage over the last decade.
Published 14 months ago by ElleJ
4.0 out of 5 stars good book
very clearly showing the big bosses inside stories hidden from the common people how these people befooling the masses
so boldly
Published 15 months ago by Syed M. Zaidi
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
I've read at least a dozen books about Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an effort to understand what is happening there and why. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Keith L. Carson
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More About the Author

For almost five years, Kim Barker was the South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, directing coverage of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. She covered natural disasters like the tsunami in Asia and the earthquake in Kashmir. She tracked manmade disasters -- the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the corruption in Afghanistan, the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Through all of it, she tried to keep her sense of humor. After the Tribune decided to cut back on foreign coverage, Barker quit in April 2009 to write "The Taliban Shuffle" and become the Edward R. Murrow fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She freelanced for Foreign Affairs, The Daily Beast, Reader's Digest and The Atlantic. Barker, who previously worked at The Seattle Times and the Spokane Spokesman-Review, is now a general-assignment reporter at ProPublica working on enterprise and investigative stories.

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