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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Department of Book Reports

Afghanistan-A Book Review of The Places In Between

Afghanistan has always seemed a remote and mysterious place to me. I knew a little, a very little, of its history, a history that has been wrapped up with many other places and cultures, including the Greeks (Alexander stopped in while on his way to India), the Persians, the Mughuls, the British, the Russians and now ourselves. I knew that in the initial Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes was able to deduce that Watson had recently served there during the Second Afghan War. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb in Los Angeles (ok, it was Encino, have your chuckle and get over it). So while in the sixth grade when an Afghani family moved there and the fraternal twins, Khan and Shari became my classmates, they seemed exotic and I was curious... I'd ask them questions about their homeland and about Islam, but they were secular Muslims, and really didn't know much about their religion and I doubt that they attended mosque. They seemed to be more interested in being adolescents, which seemed to be the right thing to be interested in. I knew it was a region that always resisted its conquerors, that the Russian attempts at subjugating the area ultimately played a large role in the fall of the Soviet Union. And I knew it was the country the U.S. invaded, driving out the Taliban, in our "search" for Bin Laden, the country where Pat Tillman, the man the Bush administration wanted to turn into a poster boy for its agenda, but inconveniently was thwarted in doing so.

Fortunately, the many holes in my ignorance of Afghanistan, the Mid-East, and its cultures and peoples have been very ably filled by Rory Stewart in The Places In Between (Harvest Books $14.00) paperback. (The slide show at the site is fascinating).
Stewart is an inveterate walker. Previous to his Afghan adventure, he had spent sixteen months walking across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
With the fall of the Taliban, he thought he could complete his Asian sojourn by walking from Herat, on the Afghan western border near Iran, to Kabul, close to the Afghan border with Pakistan. In January of 2002, after cajoling Afghan officials, dealing with its security forces, and being told that such a walking tour was too dangerous, that he would be killed along the way if he left, Stewart did depart, becoming the new government's "first tourist". And it was dangerous. The Taliban though routed from Kabul, still controlled many areas, towns and roads. Winter was arriving and the mountainous roads could get very cold... On his way Stewart encountered tribal chieftains, Taliban, Sunnis, Sh'ia. All had stories about the Russians, the Taliban and, now, the Americans. (Although Scots, himself, he was often mistaken for being from America.)
He was also adopted by a mastiff that Stewart named Babur, the first Mughal emperor of the early 16th century. Babur himself is an interesting minor character. This man had written his memoir and had followed the same route that Stewart himself planned to travel. Stewart wisely gives us excerpts from Babur's travelogue along the same path and the observations are still insightful.
Stewart's own writing is graceful and clear. Though he is not sure why he is undertaking this journey, he probably express his mission best when he tells the newly installed leader in Herat, "...I am hoping to show my people what a wonderful place Afghanistan is." With an emphasis on the wonder, he succeeds.

The General here. I've asked SeattleDan and SeattleTammy to do book reports on Saturdays so that you can witness for yourself just how cunningly seditious mystery and non-fiction writerslamunistofascists can be.

I've also urged them to remind readers that they can buy these books by ordering them from SeattleDan and SeattleTammy at Jackson Street Books in the hope that they'll become rich enough to afford to become Republicans.

Of course, if you'd rather support a giant mega-corporation rather than a small independent book store owned by a couple of francohippies, you can order it through this Amazon link. I love Amazon, mostly because they give me a kickback when you purchase through that link, but also because I look forward to the day when they and Wal-Mart control all the book sales in our great nation. We'll all be on the same page then, by God.

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