The Places in Between
What is it about?
In winter 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan. He visited places that few outsiders have ever seen, during a time when it was difficult even for Afghans to travel freely. Then he wrote a book about it.
My expectations of the book
Before walking through Afghanistan, Stewart had walked through Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. As this was only an excerpt of a journey he had long taken on I was curious to see why he took on this journey, why did he walk. I was expecting some insight into the mind of a man who has traveled.
Afghans call their home the country that fell off the map because of the impossible hardship of traveling in a place virtually without roads. They say that of the few there are, the roads in Central Afghanistan are possibly the worst, but also lead to breathtakingly beautiful places, the homes of the Hazaras and Aimaqs tribes.
Stewart could not have chosen a more difficult journey (hazardous mountain terrain in the middle of winter, just months after the fall of the Taliban regime and in the aftermath of American-led bombing). Each village he comes to bears the scars of conflict. Tensions simmer, Kalashnikovs are brandished. Leaving Herat, an Afghan man asks him, “Do you want to die?”
Afghani politics and the coalition invasion lie in the background to his walk and sometimes affect the story. For the most part, however, this is a story of a fragmented society in a very poor, war-devastated country. However, each village differs from its neighbors, and these differences make up a fascinating part of the book.
To the natural question - why did he want to walk across Afghanistan? - Stewart's best answer is that he had walked across most of Asia but had been unable to complete the Afghanistan link as originally planned. There are no better answers, and Stewart doesn't pretend to provide them. The second question - why do this in winter? - is presented as a matter of convenience, since that's when he happened to be in Herat.
As these illustrations might suggest, Stewart's writing is admirably sparse. By seeming to report just facts, he constructs a wonderful narrative in which many things are unsaid (but implied). He is simple and direct.
5 Reasons to Read This Book
- This book tells a story of things that very few Europeans will ever see or less read about
- There are no cheap stereotypes
- It contradicts what we see on television
- It’s grass root level
- It’s honest and profound