©2006 Rory Stewart; (P)2006 Recorded Books LLC
"An engrossing, surprising, and often deeply moving portrait of the land and the peoples who inhabit it." (Booklist)
"The well-oiled apparatus of his writing mimics a dispassionate camera shutter in its precision." (Publishers Weekly)
"If, finally, you're determined to do something as recklessly stupid as walk across a war zone, your surest bet to quash all the inevitable criticism is to write a flat-out masterpiece. Stewart did. Stewart has." (The New York Times)
This book provides a glimpse into a deeply foreign culture almost all of us will never see or penetrate otherwise. Afghanistan may be a desperately poor, largely illiterate country, but that doesn't tell the whole story. If you want to learn a little more about the complexity of modern Afghanistan, Rory Stuart is a good guide. He's not an apologist for the Taliban or some kind of latter day neo-colonialist, he generally just tells his story straight and lets you draw your own conclusions. Nor is this some incredible adventure story filled with narrow escapes and tales of daring do. Stuart knows he is doing something incredibly dangerous but is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, even when he comes close to getting killed.
The perspective is somewhat unusual, in that he's walking from village to village, and in each spot he picks up little bits of the culture and the people and shares them as he goes. So the picture that emerges is never fully formed, not completely linear or organized. He doesn't pre-digest and organize everything for you. Yet somehow by the end of the book, you feel as though you've learned something of the place and its people, something you could have only learned through his unique perspective.
Read by the author himself and he does a nice job with it.
This is among the top 10 audiobooks I've ever listened to, and probably one of the top 3 nonfiction audiobooks I've heard (Night and Ireland are the other 2).
Stewart's writing style and oratory are clear, easy to listen to and very effective at creating a crisp, clear mental image of the events as he relates them. I almost felt as if I were walking with him.
He also manages to relate all this information without editorializing, or sounding preachy.
I have come away from this with a much clearer knowledge of the ethnic people and terrain of Central Afghanistan. I have also developed a great respect for Mr. Stewart's calm storytelling and knack for observing subtleties in people of different ethnicities. I now want to read his latest book, The Prince of the Marshes, just to hear more of his wonderful stories.
Great book--I strongly recommend it.
This book recounts Rory Stewart's experiences walking across Afghanistan. Stewart has a subtle, understated style, and his reading perfectly matches the tone of his book. I was totally absorbed by the tale, learning of his travails as he traveled from one poor village to another, totally depending on the kindness of strangers. He gives a very even-handed account of Afghans, and a glimpse of the almost alien (to most Westerners) culture the people are steeped in. Along the way he points out that unless actual people are engaged, any effort to introduce Western values and structures are merely another imposition on the people. His story is so engaging that I could almost imagine myself walking along with him, looking at the stark landscape, and encountering the people eking out a living in it. I definitely recommend this book.
This story is almost hard to believe. How he made it to the end of his journey is beyond me. The author offers lots of very interesting insights and observations that leave you with much to think on. I feel that I have a better understanding of the "climate" in that area culturally after reading the book.
Rory Stewart has an amazing story to tell and the book is well written. Stewart reads the book himself; this is where medium rating comes in. He's probably one of the few people who can properly pronounce the Arabic and Indonesian words but, on the other hand, his intonations rarely vary. It's a bit monotone even in the most exciting parts and the voices of the different speakers aren't easily distinguished. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating story.
This book is a must-read for people wanting to know more about Afghan culture. Rory Stewart is a Scottish historian and writer who culminates a walk across the Middle East with a roughly month-long walk across Afghanistan in the weeks immediately following the fall of the Taliban. He walks through deserts, mountains and valleys. He meets new government officials and soldiers, simple village folk, mullahs, Taliban-loving villagers, etc. He only survived because he spoke Persian, was respectful of Afghan culture, and was given a dog for protection in remote and dangerous areas. After reading this, I realize more than ever that Afghanistan is a bit of every stereotype. He encountered jihadists (quite few in comparison) and peaceful villagers who didn’t even know about the United States. It is a misunderstood country that needs to be met with fresh eyes.
Afghanistan was the last stop in the author's 20 months of walking through India, Pakistan, and other countries. I haven't read his other books, which I expect might be quite good, but I get the impression that he was a little burned out when he got to Afghanistan, and just wanted to be done.
The fact that he did this trip in the dead of winter, through the snow, soaking wet, cold, pressing on while he was tired and had diarrhea, never really resting, probably did not leave him a lot of extra creative energy to observe and interact.
I think that many details that we as readers would find interesting and exotic were commonplace to him and he barely bothers to mention them. The place did not come alive for me through his words. Also, it seemed the country didn't measure up to some of the other places he'd been. He filled in with anecdotes of other places and had lots of details of the exploits of an ancient emperor. I am interested in history, but this was such micro detail (how they spent the night in a certain cave) I didn't feel it added to my understanding.
I did learn about Afghanistan, but this information could have been in a good article in the Economist, and didn't need 8 hours. This author is talented, but needs some perspective and fresh eyes.
It's a story about a people we (in the West) don't hear about, and a culture we know nothing about. From that standpoint it's an important book.
Being a true story, however, there is a limit to the narrative, and that comes across fairly quickly in that the story becomes a succession of the same event happening over and over again. It's hard to escape because it's about a man doing the same thing every day from the beginning to the end of the book. He's travelling through a different culture, but there isn't a lot of variation in the culture of the people he meets during the journey.
The performance was good. Usually authors aren't the best narrators, but in this case Mr. Stewart was very easy to listen to.
Overall I'm glad I listened, but it got a little tedious towards the end.
I was immediately taken by this story and the reader's presentation. The reader (if not the writer himself) does an amazing job with tone and pacing -- I wasn't just listening, I was THERE with him, walking side by side. I lent the audiobook to one friend and soon had three others knocking on my office door, forming a queue! That has never happened before. This is an extraordinary listen where the total is not just more than the sum of the parts, but something mesmerizing and unforgettable.
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