Monday, June 11, 2007
The Places In Between. Rory Stewart.2004 Picador.324pages.
This book recounts the authors walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul.Just after the fall of the Taliban in January 2002.
He follows the route taken by the Mogul Emperor Babur and quotes relevant sections of his diary throughout the book.Some things such as the severe climate,harsh environment and feudal society seem little changed since Barbur was born in 1480.
On his trek he encounters different factions and leaders.Some fought against the Russians,others against the Taliban some the Northern Alliance.
I got the impression that the political and military situation is as fractured as the mountains and as unforgiving and harsh as the plains and desert between.
Stewart has a great eye for detail and descriptions of people,buildings and animals.
"There was something ponderous about his movements.There was no eagerness,no playfulness and no curiosity.I couldnt tell whether he was very depressed or very old or both."(pg145).
He takes the oppurtunity to comment on various foreign interventations be it Russian,American or the U.N and on how difficult it is to unite what remains largely a feudal system of warlords into a coherent centralised state.
He also reflects on the part religion has played in creating Afghanistan and its society today.
The author retells some terrifying exchanges and encounters where he must have felt genuinely in fear of his life.The primitive conditions and deprivation the local population endure is also described.Again very different from luxurious holiday destinations with all the mod cons of consumer society.
An interesting book about a society and country that takes a backseat these days to the events in Iraq.The author mentions he took some photos on his travels and it would have been nice if they were included.As it is the maps inside helped me trace and follow his progress.Recommended.