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The Places In Between Paperback – May 8, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
We never really find out why Stewart decided to walk across Afghanistan only a few months after the Taliban were deposed, but what emerges from the last leg of his two-year journey across Asia is a lesson in good travel writing. By turns harrowing and meditative, Stewart's trek through Afghanistan in the footsteps of the 15th-century emperor Babur is edifying at every step, grounded by his knowledge of local history, politics and dialects. His prose is lean and unsentimental: whether pushing through chest-high snow in the mountains of Hazarajat or through villages still under de facto Taliban control, his descriptions offer a cool assessment of a landscape and a people eviscerated by war, forgotten by time and isolated by geography. The well-oiled apparatus of his writing mimics a dispassionate camera shutter in its precision. But if we are to accompany someone on such a highly personal quest, we want to know who that person is. Unfortunately, Stewart shares little emotional background; the writer's identity is discerned best by inference. Sometimes we get the sense he cares more for preserving history than for the people who live in it (and for whom historical knowledge would be luxury). But remembering Geraldo Rivera's gunslinging escapades, perhaps we could use less sap and more clarity about this troubled and fascinating country.(May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Stewart, a resident of Scotland, has written for the New York Times Magazine and the London Review of Books, and he is a former fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In January 2002, having just spent 16 months walking across Iran, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, Stewart began a walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. Although the Taliban had been ousted several weeks earlier, Stewart was launching a journey through a devastated, unsettled, and unsafe landscape. The recounting of that journey makes for an engrossing, surprising, and often deeply moving portrait of the land and the peoples who inhabit it. Stewart relates his encounters with ordinary villagers, security officials, students, displaced Taliban officials, foreign-aid workers, and rural strongmen, and his descriptions of the views and attitudes of those he lived with are presented in frank, unvarnished terms. Nation building in Afghanistan remains a work in progress, and this work should help those who wish to understand the complexities of that task. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Kind of a sad tale about a sad little man.
My favorite part of the book is the middle. The politics and troubles at either end are much more familiar and while they frame the walk were less interesting than being in the villages in between. What situations! What a picture of mountain people living in such a situation! Each experience, one after the other, is fascinating and full of such telling information that it colors all thoughts concerning the situation in this country. Thank you Rory for making this trip, you nutter, and sharing it with us who would rather stay at home on the Internet in a warm house with our dogs at our feet - with all of their teeth. I will have to go read the Iraq book next.
The adventure itself untaken only a few weeks after the Taliban was deposed by the American onslaught in late 2001 was definitely an exercise in sheer audacity and luck. It doesn't seem possible that a Western, non-Muslim white-man could walk 600 miles without a map in completely foreign and harsh territory, mostly alone, while encountering severe winter weather, contending with debilitating dysentery, and having to constantly persuade and deceive suspicious, if not hostile, locals, even Taliban types, that he was not a threat and was deserving of the assistance of food and shelter.
The author is remarkably reticent in providing details of his background and motivation in undertaking this journey and several others in the region. There are some historical details injected into the narrative as he journeys through villages and regions. The route was chosen to be similar to one undertaken by a sixteenth century Afghan warlord. Unfortunately, disconnected historical tidbits hardly provide a coherent understanding of the history of the region.
This book was regarded by the NY Times as being in the top five nonfiction books of 2006. That is surprising. The book lacks context - virtually on page 1 the walk begins -and is so repetitious that it is a struggle to continue. The reader is left with a highly fragmented understanding of a very remote region of the world that is several centuries behind modern civilization. Probably the most compelling aspect of the book was the author acquiring a dog, a large mastiff, a few days into his journey with whom he fought the elements and warded off other village dogs. There may be enough content in the book to justify spending the time with it.
And the selfishness, the narcissism of undertaking a trek across this country in the harshest winter and putting other people at risk when the Afghani goverment insists he takes officials along with him! The nerve of him demanding food and shelter at each stop from people he describes as dirt poor! And, adopting an old dog, forcing it to make the awful walk (or drag, since he describes dragging the poor beast along many times) with him!
The proceeds from this book should go to those whom this unthinking man forced himself on. Unfortunately, it's too late for the dog . . . .