13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
"The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker, (2011), Doubleday, 303 pgs. A `Deer Look caught in Headlights' describes the author's experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan: she sees well that a terrorist attack is happening, but doesn't quite fully understand WHY it is happening. The author saw the immediate aftermath whereby terrorists or Islamikazes killed 'infidels' (and innocent Muslim passersby as unfortunate `collateral damage'). However, I don't recall her asking: "Why are all of these suicide bombers Muslim?" One reviewer wrote that he found this book so interesting that "I couldn't put it down"; contrarily for me, as this book really didn't cover any new ground that others haven't already written about -- I found it hard to pick it back up after setting it down (all too frequently I bemoaned: "Will this book never end?"). The only thing really new here were her dating experiences; sad experiences in a sad region. But her dating experiences led to the best line in her book: "I was also trying not to date in Kabul as Afghanistan resembled Alaska if you were a woman - the odds were good but the goods were odd" (p. 123). Even though she may not have witnessed some terrorist attack, she nonetheless related a history of the incident - but I had the feeling that I was reading generic news information; her `first hand' experience was missing. Don't get me wrong, she witnessed as lot of mayhem, but it seemed like she was usually out of the area when the incident occurred, and she was sent in as a stringer to cover the story. I do laud her as a female journalist in putting her `boots on the ground' in a really unsafe region. As a western woman in a Muslim region it was difficult for her to develop `deep', meaningful, prying questions of Islamist leaders for their beliefs, not that she didn't try. It didn't help that she had to rely on local translators, as she didn't speak either Dari or Pashto, and thereby, she couldn't engage in more spontaneous questioning. She wrote: "To understand Pakistan, India was the key" (p. 150). No, you need to first understand Islam, so you can understand why prior to the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, a majority of the Muslims didn't want to coexist amongst Hindus inside India - as they realized they could never regain their former minority control over the Hindus. [To understand the Muslim superiority mentality one needs to read "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" by Robert Spencer.] Ms. Barker was Bambi in Baghlan.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Kim Barker says she wrote this book, an account of her various reporting trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan when she was the South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune from 2004-09, as "...comic relief, an antidote to all that was falling apart." And that's what it is, in two ways.
First, this is a narrative about Afghanistan and Pakistan, an account of what she witnessed and impressions of the influential people she interviewed. It goes beyond history; it paints a vivid picture of the real-world, day-to-day situation for those unfortunate enough to live-- and too often die-- in those two countries. It is not a pretty picture.
In Barker's view, we have horribly botched the mission there. There were never enough military or civilian personnel there to stabilize things after the US invasion, and the tribal nature of those societies and the endemic corruption in the region make it extremely unlikely-- probably impossible-- that things will improve much in the future. Her feeling is that eventually, the US will more or less declare victory and leave, and the warlords and the Taliban will come to an agreement about who's in charge. It will most likely be the Taliban, since they hold almost all of the cards in the game. Is she right? Well, there's no way to know at this point, but there's almost never anything in the news from that area that makes one disbelieve her.
The second aspect of Barker's book is her personal narrative. She's an unmarried, mid-30s, female doing what is ordinarily considered to be a man's job in the very epicenter of Islamic male-domination. Her stories about how she makes her way in that world are both funny and unnerving. In addition, she's a self-diagnosed adrenaline junkie who can't resist jumping on a plane and going toward whatever crisis or disaster has erupted. Her personal life is a shambles, mostly because she's attracted to men who share her personality traits.
In the end, she goes cold turkey. She quits her job (aided by the disintegration of the Tribune's news operation) and leaves the war zone. Currently, she's a press fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.
The one thing about this book that bothers me a bit is her apparent attempt to channel Hunter S. Thompson, the godfather of gonzo journalism. That act wore thin when Thompson did it, and it's really no better to read about how Barker did it. On the other hand, Barker somehow makes it all seem more real-world than Thompson could. It might be that for her, it really wasn't an act.
This is a book that's well worth reading. Barker reveals a very nearly unique view into the events that are shaping our world. As one of the publication blurbs says, there's a certain amount of Catch-22 in what she sees. That's entirely accurate. And as is the case with reading Catch-22, you might find that laughing about what's she's describing is the only way to avoid crying about it.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2012
This book contains a few tidbits of interesting information about Afghanistan, but the author spends far too much time talking about her clothing and relationships with men and other frivolous aspects of her personal life. I picked this book up because I am trying to learn more about one of the most important countries in the world right now; I don't care about how cute this lady thinks some guy is or how this outfit shows off her figure or how that top matches her pants or how much fun she had at a party. I guess she is trying to make the story personable and relatable for a Western audience, but I just felt like I was wasting my time reading it.
I strongly recommend skipping this one and instead picking up 'The Places in Between.' It's gripping, intense, and infinitely more informative than 'The Taliban Shuffle.'
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The author of this book spent years reporting between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but this book is more a personal memoir than anything much to do with the wars. She felt at home in Afghanistan, and, indeed it doesn't seem to have been all that dangerous at the time. I learned that there were places where alcohol was readily available, and there were quite a few parties in both countries. I learned what the author and her friends wore to these parties, too. This type of info is interspersed with stories of her "fixer", her driver, and several kind of funny relationships with politicians. I also learned that back then a reporter could live a fairly normal life, or at least Kim Barker and her friends did.
Barker's writing style is engaging, and will keep you turning the pages (but won't keep you up all night). When I finished the book I couldn't help but think that something was missing, though. I think maybe the author should have added some of her news stories to the book, or delved a little deeper in the war part of the story. Maybe she was consciously trying to keep it light, or keep it funny, but it really wasn't funny, except for a few of the politicians personalities. It's a decent book, but I think it could have been much better.
There's a great book out there by a female correspondent: Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War which I think everyone should read. I understand that that wasn't the book Ms. Barker set out to write, and her book is good, but could have been excellent. Recommended for people who like their war stories on the light side.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2011
Kim Barker comes from a hippie family in Montana, she had little worldly experience or wealth, her parents grounded her for letting the marijuana plants die, and her idea of going "overseas" was the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Hoping to escape her upbringing she began reporting for local papers, learning the craft of writing, and then landed a job at the Chicago Tribune around 9/11. Being young and single (expendable) she was given an overseas posting to Afghanistan, at the time the backwater to Iraq's headline news. She stayed for years, learning about the country and having adventures along the way. This breezy memoir is her story.
The memoir is ok but not central in the war literature, there's not the depth of personal and political insight you see in the better literary memoirs. It's funny, she is witty. Those looking for a very personal perspective will enjoy it.