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

3.9 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Length: 322 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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: 1034 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (March 22, 2011)
  • Publication Date: March 22, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004EPZ48U
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,262 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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
1 Comment 23 of 29 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Taliban Shuffle, despite its promise to be "laugh-out-loud funny," is not a laugh riot, thank goodness. I had mixed feelings about the flip title and promise of unrestrained mirth. It's about a war, after all. But it's unlikely I would have read a sobering look at the state of the endless and seemingly pointless war.

P.J. O'Rourke writes in a blurb on the cover that hellholes like Afghanistan and Pakistan are "kind of fun." Nonsense. The Westerners who find themselves there, as reporters or aid workers or contractors, (but not soldiers - there doesn't seem to be much hobnobbing between military and civilian) take every opportunity to relieve the stress of being in a war zone by boozing, partying, hooking up, and doing drugs. It's the kind of desperate fun that comes with the added thrill of knowing you could be bombed, shot, or kidnapped without warning.

While The Taliban Shuffle explains a lot about the war in Afghanistan and the politics in Pakistan, it's more revealing about what it's like to be a war correspondent. Kim Barker writes a fascinating account of her evolution from inexperienced reporter to intrepid journeyman correspondent to jaded journalist. Never pompous or self-important, Barker is sometimes painfully honest about her destructive relationships and becoming an adrenaline junkie. Even when her newspaper shut down the South Asia Bureau and reassigned her to a domestic beat, she soon quit and flew back, because she was addicted to Afghanistan.

I haven't yet come across a book about the war in Afghanistan that is as enlightening as Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone was about the war in Iraq. But The Taliban Shuffle fills a different gap by being an authentic and unrestrained account of the lives of war correspondents.
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