Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Places In Between

The minute I laid eyes on a synopsis of The Places In Between, I knew that I wanted to read it but it took me four years to get around to it.

I like memoirs. I like to know how people got over, rose to the top or emerged from the ashes.

I wanted to get into the mindset of someone like Rory Stewart who walked from Herat to Kabul, Afghanistan, a trek that took 16 months with an average of 20 to 25 miles walked per day.

The chapters in The Places seemed abrupt but, once I got into the book, I settled in and was captivated by Stewart's journey.

Stewart has to have letters of introduction to get into each valley. People constantly ask him for medicine and/or money and he's called an infidel at least once.

There is mention of blood vendettas, human rights, illiteracy and land mines.

In a seminar in Kabul, I heard Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, say, "Afghans have been fighting for their human rights for twenty-five years. We don't need to tell them what their rights are." The head of a major food agency said privately," Villagers are not interested in human rights. They are like poor people all over the world. All they think about is where their next meal is coming from." (247)
This just reaffirms what I heard an Afghan woman say on the evening news years ago:

People who have food do not care about people who do not.

Reading The Places in Between makes you wonder about living under the duress of a regime that banned public music but flaunted public stonings.

As we ate, our host, Khalife Amir, played a tamboura lute...The others, who had not been able to hear music performed in public during the years of the Taliban regime, were quiet. (251)

By the time I got to the end of this book, I was sad to realize that there were no more words to read and that it was time to close the covers.

If you haven't already seen it, check out this fascinating article about how, in Afghanistan, families without sons feel forced to turn their girls into boys.

Furthermore, if you haven't see it, I recommend the documentary Afghan Stories.

I've also heard a lot of talk about The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan but I don't think that I'll be able to stomach that one just yet.

Are you reading anything of note right now?


  1. If they KNOW that people are doing that to girls (raising them as boys), why can't they just designate a daughter to be given all of the rights of a boy?

    Oy, my grandmother had 3 boys, but wanted a daughter so badly that she dressed my uncle as a girl. He has yet to be able to hold a relationship. I don't think it's a coincidence.

    I am glad that I grew up in a land that appreciates girls. I love being a girl.

  2. There's a James Michener book called Caravans, set in Afghanistan, that is absolutely fascinating. It was written in the early 1950s I think, and although it's fictional, it's surprising how the country is dealing with EXACTLY the same issues 60 years later.

    I thought maybe it was a typo in the Mary Robinson quote. Twenty-five years? 2500 maybe.

  3. @Angela,

    I know, there should definitely be a better way.

    :o, Your poor uncle.

    A lot of the girls in the article have trouble once they have to transition from boy to girl again.


    It does sound like bad math, doesn't it? One of the guys in that documentary, Afghan Stories, said that the country was in such bad shape that maybe it should be imploded so that everyone could just start over.

  4. Wow-that's heavy reading. Memoirs usually are though.
    Autobiographies are my favorite kind of books :)
    I've been so busy lately that i haven't had a chance to read much of anything, but i do have some books checked out from the library.
    One is a C.S. Lewis devotional.
    The other one is a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.
    I have one on hold at the library that i CAN'T WAIT to get called "Crazy Love".
    I also will soon be buying "Sun Stand Still" by Steven Furtick. That one looks friggin.awesome. :)

  5. That book sounds incredibly moving. I'm in between books right now, but I am going to pick a book to start tonight! Have you read "Two Cups of Tea" - beautiful book.

  6. @Heather,

    You've already made it to the library in Seattle? I'm impressed. I'm equally impressed with your queue of books. You'll have to let me know about your selections.


    Haven't read the *Tea* book yet but I might actually pick that one up next. I think it would be good to read that one right after The Places In Between.

  7. "By the time I got to the end of this book, I was sad to realize that there were no more words to read and that it was time to close the covers."

    I love the way you put this.

    Right now I'm working through Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. It's heavy stuff but fascinating (and disturbing).

  8. @LitProf,

    Thanks. I definitely find it hard to say goodbye to a good book. I revisit the last paragraph and other segments of the book that moved me.

    I try to have another book lined up so that I don't go through withdrawal.

    I'll have to add your book to my must-read list.