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An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan…
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An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan

by Jason Elliot

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14/03/13 1 of 19 books for $10
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
An English schoolboy with no connection to the place, falls mysteriously in love with a far country. As soon as he is old enough, off he goes. And a wonderful, wonderful book results. Just now and then he strains a little too hard with the lyricism of his writing, but I read 99% of this with unalloyed pleasure. Elliot has every quality a traveller should have, including that blind trust in fate - that confidence that the right person or truck will soon turn up. Interlaced with his own fascinating first-hand accounts is just the right amount of history and background. This is travel writing par excellence: you are with him as he fights alongside the mujahedin; you lean desperately in your chair to stop the bus going over the precipice; you endure the smell of sweat and goat as you sleep toe to tail with strangers. All in all, the title sums this book up perfectly. ( )
  Karen_Wells | Aug 25, 2008 |
Elliot, Jason > Travel > Afghanistan/Afghanistan > Description and travel
  Budzul | May 31, 2008 |
Very readable, and a good accompaniment / antidote to the stauration (and stereotypical) media coverage of events in Afghanistan in recent times.
The parts that interest me most are the cultural observations - the "humanising" of a people who are otherwise seen as exotic, unfathomable 'others'. I was fascinated by the observations and experiences Elliot has with the very severe and serious looking Afghans in front of the camera, and the warmth and hospitality and cheerfulness he encounters.

It was quite chilling when he was trying to get to Bamiyan, a feat he never achieved...and thinking about the loss of those statues under the Taliban. Also the description of the glories of the mosque/medresse at Herat, counterpoised with the reality when he gets there. I just cannot imagine what Afghanistan looked like - would love to see some pictures of it in its glorious past. We see so many images now of rubble and destruction, I can't imagine the avenues of trees and beautiful gardens that once were, but Elliot's word pictures help.

However, Elliot's sory is, by necessity, half the story only. Elliot, as a man, can only interact with men during his journeys. This is not, of course, Elliot's fault. I got the feeling in quite a few places that Elliot was startlingly comfortable with all the male company, and hardly missed the company of women. When he was in women's company he was only ever able to objectify them. His reaction to the attractive Afghan woman he encountered (Herat?) was but one example. At the expat gatherings it was the same, and the foreign journalists he usually had something, if not disparaging, then at least arch, to say about them.

I do think at times he might be prone to romanticising those with whom he seems to have most sympathy - the mujahadeen of the north. Plenty is known about the atrocities they have been involved with over the years, and organisations like RAWA certainly have no more time for them than the Taleban. He certainly lionises the Northern Alliance, the mujahadeen - it is obvious his sympathies lie with them, which is understandable, seeing as he was with them and also the Soviet occupation was untenable and vile. Nevertheless, we know that the alliance were no saints at all, and we get no sense of that.

While I found all his journeys interesting, I loved the section in the latter part of the book about Herat the best. It was the only place where he met resistance and suspicion from the ex-pats (the Swiss and French aid workers), and where he met the most "interesting" non-Afghans, especially the Christian missionaries.

Then there was the English couple and their children in the village north of Heart. I would love to have known a bit more about them and their motivations.

But best of all was when he visited the shrine and stayed the night with the sufis and the descriptions of the Talebs who came along making their noises of - ecstacy? reverie?

This was also the scene of the only time where I felt that he felt any real fear. The tension when he was having to dash back to the missionaries after he had been thrown out of the aid place was real.

The footnote on p 254 is really interesting and has made me conscious of the phenomenon he describes every time an item comes on TV about countries where Muslims are the majority: the image of Moslems at prayer. He's right! It does accompany nearly every single news item - those bums raised in the air! And imagine if every time there was an item about, say Northern Ireland, it was accompanied by an image of Caholics genuflecting! Absurd, we would think. As he says it: "I have sometimes wondered what the Moslem interpretation might be of news reports of the West if they always began the footage of glum faces filing into churches in their Sunday best in order to drink the blood of a human God."

Recommended. ( )
  saliero | Jun 18, 2007 |
It was hard for me to decide whether Jason Elliot's journey across war-torn Afghanistan was brave or inexcusably foolish. Still, this is an undeniably important book for those who wish to understand Afghanistan. Elliot brings to life the ethnic groups that inhabit the country and the conflicts between them, witnesses battle scars from the Soviet invasion, experiences devastating beauty and above all, the incredible hospitality of Afghanistan. ( )
  cestovatela | Apr 9, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312288468, Paperback)

Part historical evocation, part travelogue, and part personal quest, An Unexpected Light is the account of Elliot's journey through Afghanistan, a country considered off-limits to travelers for twenty years. Aware of the risks involved, but determined to explore what he could of the Afghan people and culture, Elliot leaves the relative security of Kabul. He travels by foot and on horseback, and hitches rides on trucks that eventually lead him into the snowbound mountains of the North toward Uzbekistan, the former battlefields of the Soviet army's "hidden war." Here the Afghan landscape kindles a recollection of the author's life ten years earlier, when he fought with the anti-Soviet mujaheddin resistance during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Weaving different Afghan times and visits with revealing insights on matters ranging from antipersonnel mines to Sufism, Elliot has created a narrative mosaic of startling prose that captures perfectly the powerful allure of a seldom-glimpsed world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:14 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An exploration of a country that has been off-limits to travellers for 20 years.

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