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Places in Between [Paperback]

Rory Stewart
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 29 2006

In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan—surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers’ floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way Stewart met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers. He was also adopted by an unexpected companion—a retired fighting mastiff he named Babur in honor of Afghanistan’s first Mughal emperor, in whose footsteps the pair was following.

Through these encounters—by turns touching, confounding, surprising, and funny—Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology, and allegiance that shape life in the map’s countless places in between.


 


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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile Read Jan. 6 2008
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Scotsman Rory Stewart tells the story of his walk across Afghanistan a few months after the fall of the Taliban. He takes the less travelled route through the mountains, in the wintertime, passing through a number of small villages. Some of the villagers are kind, other are nasty, and some are plain disinterested. Stewart speaks enough of the local language, and with quite a bit of perseverance and luck, he makes it safely to Kabul.

This book is pretty standard travel fare. Stewart tells his story, without too much in the way of commentary, politics or history. He does tell us a little about the Emperor Barbur who made the same trip, also in winter, about 500 years earlier. And, of course, it is impossible not to get a bit of an anthropology lesson on such a trip, but Stewart does not preach or put his views up front. Rather, he tells story of his interesting walk -- the places he sees and the people he meets -- in plain language. Overall, it is a good read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan from the Inside Out Dec 18 2007
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Rory Stewart's account of his trek through the wilds of central Afghanistan involves an amazing journey of courage, skill, and adventure into a world beyond human comprehension. Throughout the weeks he spent trudging through some of the wildest terrain imaginable, Stewart developed a real appreciation for the rich diversity of ancient culture - Persian, Mughal, Buddhist - as it shows up in numerous tribal settlements along the way. His constant search for new and dangerous experiences was forever taking him along paths less travelled and and reliving history along the way. Picking up Babur(his new found mastiff) along the way presents some new challenges for Stewart. For instance, tribal Afghans so disdain dogs that Rory spent considerable time protecting Babur from the elements and malicious strangers. Any act of kindness towards a stranger or animal is generally regarded as an unforgivable weakness. While always courteous and civil, Stewart refuses to kowtow to many of the local prejudices. In his travels, he portrays himself as a solitary traveler looking to find a confirmation of history in the present. The book is so jam-packed with of interesting historical, geographical, and political tidbits that the reader would be well advised to have access to a couple of good reference books on the country. To show you how effective Stewart is at capturing the experience of rambling through the Afghan wilderness, I had no problem seeing myself tagging along in a vicarious fashion, always eagerly waiting for the next big surprise. He signs off with some interesting and thought-provoking conclusions about the chances of democracy in Afghanistan. Based on what he has seen in the outlying parts of the country, perhaps Afghanistan, like Iraq, is not ready to succeed with any serious experiment in open and fair government. Stewart is well worth the read anytime.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WALKING TO KABUL Nov. 21 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had heard a lot about this book and I looked forward to reading it. There was a certain amount of hype building around it and the New York Times proclaims on the cover that it was "a flat-out masterpiece". Masterpiece is a much overused word these days by book and movie critics. One wishes that these people could restrain themselves sometimes.
I do not think Rory Stewart's book is a masterpiece but it certainly is a very good story. Stewart is a brilliant young writer who by the age of thirty had already been deputy governor of a province in Iraq for the Foreign Office, a fellow at Harvard, a summer tutor to Princes William and Harry, and served as an officer in the British Infantry. He speaks several languages.
One day he decided to walk across Iran, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan, a 6000 mile journey. When he reached the Afghan border he was unable to continue because of the Taliban occupation, so he leap frogged and continued his walk in India. After the American invasion and fall of the Taliban, he went back to Herat to finish the middle part of his walk, hence the title of the book.
Stewart decides to follow the same journey of the first Moghal emperor, Babur and he visits many of the same places. He has a keen interest in Afghan history and we sense his enthusiasm as searches for the Turquoise Mountain. Early on his journey, he is given a dog, a huge mastiff he names Babur, after the emperor and for most of his trek, Babur will be his only companion. It is winter, it is cold, people are not friendly, he is sick most of the time, and he must rely completely on the generosity of poor villagers for shelter and food. One wonders why he is doing this.
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