Monday, September 04, 2006

06.29 The Places In Between by Rory Stewart


The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
Trade, Harcourt, 299 pp.

The author of this book, Rory Stewart,is a Scottish writer and diplomat. Between 2000 and 2002 he went on a walking journey of over 6000 miles through Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. This book is an account of his travels as he walked through Afghanistan only months after the fall of the Taliban.

He walked a route between the cities of a Herat and Kabul in the early winter along the same route as the famous Moghul emperor Babur in the 1500's. Stewart speaks the languages, but remains very low-key throughout. He essentially moves through small villages which are located approximately one days walk apart in the high mountain passes. Where possible, he obtains written letters of introduction for the feudal head of the next village ahead.

In the beginning of the story, the new government of Afghanistan makes him take along two soldiers for protection. These are hardened men, but since they are out of their ethnic area it becomes difficult for them to stay with him and eventually he pays them off to go back home. Soon after that, one of the villages gives him an old fighting mastiff, who he names Babur, and takes him along with him for the rest of the journey.

The book is quite masterful in its blending of anthropology, archaeology, political science and history. Stewart never passes judgment on the poverty or occasional lack of hospitality he that he comes across. In fact, the one criticism I might have of this book is that you really don't come to know who he is. Nevertheless, in a way this is a good thing because you do come to find out what the people are like who live in the country and how they see the outside world.

The writing is tight and pleasing, insofar as you want to keep reading the story to find out how things will turn out for him. A highly entertaining and recommended book in the vein of TE Lawrence.


Olman Feelyus said...

That dog sounds awesome. Did he keep him?

Lantzvillager said...

Well, I don't want to give it away here but the dog figures prominently at the very end of his tale.

I'll tell you next time I see you.

Buzby said...

Hmmm, tight and pleasing, eh?

Sounds like a cool book. Is he planning on writing about the other countries that he walked through?