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To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan Hardcover – May 12, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Schmidle offers a gripping, grim account of his two years as a journalism fellow in Pakistan, where his travels took him into the most isolated and unfriendly provinces, and into the thick of interests and beliefs that impede that nation's peace and progress. The author reports on the murky relationship between the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the Taliban and how American bombings have actually helped the Taliban gain influence in the border regions. While Schmidle amplifies the danger an unstable Pakistan poses to its neighbors and the world, he also turns a constructively critical eye back to American support of mujahideen during the Afghan war against the Soviets and shows how American intervention was both a help and an exacerbation of problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a witness to Musharraf's last days in power and the rage that followed Bhutto's assassination, Schmidle has, with this effort, established himself as a fresh, eloquent and informed contributor to the ongoing dialogue regarding Pakistan, terrorism and the strategic importance of engaging Central Asia in efforts toward peace and stability. (May)
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From Booklist

In 2006, wanting to become a journalist but lacking any journalistic experience, Schmidle decided he would go to Iran, but political upheaval there nixed that plan, so he chose Pakistan instead. After hurriedly gathering background, he spent two years in the country, exploring its past and present, living among its people, writing about them. The book is a fascinating account of his years in Pakistan, where on any given day he could be spending time in a Taliban training camp, interviewing a Shi’a preacher, or meeting a political leader. Schmidle explores the country’s short but turbulent history (Pakistan, both the word and the country, is less than a century old), showing it to us from the perspective of someone who came to the country ill-prepared for what he would find. He eventually learns to love the country and its people, but the memory of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan, is never too far from Schmidle’s mind, or from the reader’s. This is really the story of the two Pakistans the author discovered: one beautiful and friendly, the other frightening and deadly. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089387
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,021,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen C. Long on May 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Schmidle grabs your attention from the beginning and in just a few pages introduces you to the real Pakistan and the way it works. The police come to his apartment at night and tell him he must leave the country immediately. Schmidle's wife Rikki, who knows influential people in government, suggests calling a senior "patron," who takes the phone and intercedes with the police to leave them alone. The Schmidles have been in Pakistan for two years, Nicholas on a writing fellowship learning all he can about Pakistan and its people.

The next morning they call their patron again. Schmidle notes that knowing the right people in Pakistan is critical, but it's far more important not to know the wrong people, who can get you in more trouble than the right people can get you out of. Schmidle's patron tells him the matter is "way above his head" in government and they should leave Pakistan immediately. Schmidle had published an article in the New York Times Magazine exposing the new generation of Taliban leaders.

The book begins with a quotation suggesting no one can truly understand another person. Nonetheless, you believe when you have concluded this book that you truly understand the people and the situation in Pakistan better.

As I write this (May 2009), Pakistan may well become, in the next year, the most important place in the world in terms of the security of the United States and Europe. This book will give you insight into this country and these people that will be critical in understanding the news coverage.

Nicholas became fluent in Urdu, wore local mufti, and personally met with all of the key players in Pakistan, as well as many of the common people.
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Format: Hardcover
Journalists who cover Pakistan have a certain bravado to their demeanor that is understandable at one level. Covering the tribal areas of the country is dangerous for foreigners and they certainly have to be credited for undertaking such assignments despite all the travel warnings. However, when the assignment to cover the story is somewhat undermined with a reporter's impulse to "become the story," then the reporting becomes problematic. While Mr. Schmidle's book has some good insights about the Taliban's roots in Pakistan, there is a persistent self-indulgence in the narrative. This tendency can be seen right at the start of the book which recounts the author's expulsion from Pakistan - an episode that he portrays as a mysterious plot by the intelligence services against him. With the help of the Pakistani ambassador he is able to return in 2008 to cover a more benign story on Sufi dervishes for the Smithsonian. Again he claims to be shadowed by the intelligence services and leaves the country under security provided by the US consulate in Karachi. He seems very self-absorbed about his own importance in the narrative which I found troubling and it detracts from the seriousness of the topic being covered. Mr. Schmidle makes his interaction with Pakistan "personal" but in a more self-centered and negative way. At once he says that he pities poor Pakistanis who can't leave the country like he did under US escort while he also envies other foreign reporters who were able to continue to work there. It would have been useful if Mr. Schmidle had also included some self-reflection about why he may have been singled out?Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
There are a number of excellent journalists from outside Pakistan who understand the country and the people in a more than superficial way. One of these is Nicholas Schmidle, a freelance journalist who has written extensively on Pakistan for almost three years now for various publications.

In fact, Schmidle would rank very high on my admittedly short list of favorite foreign correspondents who have written on Pakistan and South Asia. Owen Bennett-Jones would be ranked first. Schmidle would be second. Carlotta Gall would be third, and Steve Coll would be fourth. David Sanger would be last -- if Pakistan-based journalism was football, Sanger would be Papua New Guinea.

Schmidle practices journalism of the best kind, and this is evident in his fascinating and arresting portrayal of Pakistan in his recently released book, To Live Or To Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan. Schmidle does not rely on hearsay or rumors. If he hears something, he tries to corroborate by going to the source, even if doing so represents real physical danger. Schmidle does not rely on a handful of sources in air-conditioned drawing rooms or foreign embassies or alarmist think tanks or compromised intelligence agencies. He meets anyone and everyone willing to talk, including terrorist mullahs and naswar vendors. Schmidle is not a drive-by expert, whose interest and study of Pakistan is a passing fad -- he speaks Urdu, conducted almost all his interviews in the national language, and wore shalwar kurtas whenever the situation demanded it. He is basically an anthropologist masquerading as a journalist.

Once you pick the book up, you will not be able to put it down. It's written very lucidly and features in-depth interviews and stories featuring anyone and everyone you've ever heard of.
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