Friday, April 28, 2017

Book Review: The Places in Between: Afghanistan, Rory Stewart and a dog

The Places in Between*, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt Publishing, 2006, 299 pages, $14.00)

A New York Times Bestseller (and, yes, it’s about a dog)

Born in Hong Kong, brought up in Malaysia, student at Eton and Oxford, tutor of both British princes, this British military veteran and MP (member of Parliament not military police) walked through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India, and wrote about part of his travels in The Places in Between.

Someone I Would Love to Meet

Rory Stewart’s solitary trek through Afghanistan in 2002 was something you could never imagine: it seemed to be more possible during the 1950s but Stewart did it in 2002!

2002 was just after the fall of the Taliban** in Afghanistan when the country was still in transition. However, small villages often escaped the political upheavals***.

His second book, Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq, tells of his experiences in the marshes of Iraq after the war when he served as a post-war governor.

A Road Book, Romantic and Exotic

You’ve heard of “Road Movies,” a genre populated with the likes of Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, The Motorcycle Diaries, Bonnie and Clyde, It Happened One Night, and The Road pictures of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (Road to Singapore/Zanzibar/Rio/Morocco

Road books include Travels with Charley (Steinbeck), On the Road (Jack Kerouac), and now, The Places in Between.

Take one young person, 18-30, not yet ready to settle down in a real job, who goes out on his own or with a buddy – preferably on his own and preferably with a knowledge of the language.

Ah, the travels, the adventures, the exotic places to write about at the conclusion, so we, the readers, can live it vicariously and voraciously and dream it happened to us. The Silk Road, the Turquoise Mountain, Buzkashi, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, . . . .

A World Apart: "There is no Government Anymore"

One village has 82 inhabitants - male – they don’t bother to count the women. Villages are often a two hours’ walk from each other – women have never taken that trek. Streets are womenless. Children play with their cousins and when they are about 15, they marry them.

Ah, Afghanistan!

If you were deployed to Afghanistan you will be dumbfounded by Stewart’s adventures. If you haven’t, it still is a book you will read and take with you to read another chapter or page whenever you can.

If you are a dog person, you will understand how a huge dog named Barbur adopted Stewart and traveled with him.

“The Kindness of Strangers. . . . “

In drawings, photographs and words, you will meet village elders and mullahs, Taliban fighters, NGO workers (the latter two being quite idealistic), Hazaras and Bamiyan and more.

You will come away with a new-found respect for a road trip and for the villagers of Afghanistan. You will understand their sense of cordiality and hospitality. You will eat their food, sleep in their homes, chat over tea, and come to understand tradition.

You will want to read this book again.

The Places in Between would make a marvelous film!

*available in the Howard County, MD, public library system
**December 7, 2001, was the date the Taliban laid down their arms in Kandahar, Afghanistan

***When I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007-08, one of my fellow troops who went out into the villages overheard this comment: “When did the Russians change their uniforms?”

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