|ASIA & THE PACIFIC
|Author: Rory Stewart
In January 2002 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.
|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
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