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The Places in Between

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Diary of a Madman

Rory Stewart is either incredibly brave, or totally insane. But whatever the influence may be, he has written a deep and insightful journal on his travels through a country that is often misunderstood and feared. In 2002, Stewart traveled to Afghanistan to walk across i...
Rory Stewart is either incredibly brave, or totally insane. But whatever the influence may be, he has written a deep and insightful journal on his travels through a country that is often misunderstood and feared. In 2002, Stewart traveled to Afghanistan to walk across it. This walk took him from Herat to Kabul, roughly a 500 mile trek, following the trail of Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal empire. The first half of his expedition he was companied by 3 men, 2 of which were ordered to walk with him by the new Afghan government's secret police. These men gave Stewart many glimpses into the sociological culture of the people without saying anything to him outside of normal conversation.
The book is more of a journal that was polished. I found this very refreshing, and made his experience very real to me, especially with his personal drawings included, from people to artifacts to random objects nearby. Stewart often describes his thoughts and feelings towards a situation, adding detail to the author himself.
Yet Stewart never truly reveals WHY he is traveling so far, across such a dangerous route in January through a country of poverty stricken people. He does not delve far into descriptions, of either people, objects or locations, which makes the book rather dry and Stewart seem distant.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in travel as a whole, culture immersion, Afghanistan or just looking for a good story. Stewarts style of writing keeps the reader engaged but gives them room to think and form their own opinions.

posted by David-Herrick on February 8, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

And the point is?

Nonfiction writing should always have a point. Stewart writes fluently and well, but it's not clear what he wants the reader to take from his experience. If it's not an exercise in self-indulgent, 'you'll never believe what I did' bravado, travel writing should either d...
Nonfiction writing should always have a point. Stewart writes fluently and well, but it's not clear what he wants the reader to take from his experience. If it's not an exercise in self-indulgent, 'you'll never believe what I did' bravado, travel writing should either debunk a myth about a place or should encourage people to go visit before it's too late. 'Venice is sinking.' It should be an education or a call to action. After centuries of tribal warfare and invasion, what could be surprising about Afghanistan's poverty and descent into chaos? Would anyone in his right mind take a trip there? The quest for the untried and the exotic continues to fascinate, and perhaps as perspectives flatten out through globalization, there will be renewed interest in and a widening market for outlandish ventures like this one. But taking a nineteen-month walk through extreme danger is either courageous or it's foolhearty. If it's courageous, it must have a point. I'm afraid that Stewart's wildly overrated 'masterpiece' of a narrative is meaningful if and only if the reader is unable to imagine Afghanistan then and now. It's a place that is immune to change or if it has changed, it has only decayed. Stewart's description, for its many flashes of extreme beauty, is too close to reported reality to ingite the reader's imagination. One point of enduring interest is his brief dicussion of the young and inexperienced foreign-aid workers and their futile quest to build a liberal and humanitarian nation out of a collection of ancient prejudices and warring factions. Still, the book is worth reading, especially if one feels the need to further concretize the suffering and deprivation of foreign and seldom- visited lands whose victimization has been, in large measure, brought about by an imperialistic quest to 'discover' what was already there.

posted by Anonymous on May 10, 2007

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A man who finds a place in life where he is home.

    Pretty much a story about this man's quest to bring antiquity thru to the modern age while trying to recapture what made this country beautiful; it's ancient art and history where much has been eradicated by a self-mutilating people frozen in time, who are caught in a vicious political cycle of upheaval and re-birth thru the centuries. He seems to bring out what's left of hope in a hopeless struggle for peace in a region with many conflicts of interest.
    It's also about a people who are bound to a life they hate and love at the same time. A land of Cain and Abel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    One of my all-time favorite books...a surefire classic

    I had access to a hard copy of this book as I listened to Rory read it on CD. I am completely in awe of his heroic walk through the mountains from Herat to Kabul in war-torn Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government in 2002. I learned more from his journey than from many other things I have read about Afghanistan, excepting perhaps Didier Lefèvre's book The Photographer, which is a excellent visual accompaniment to this volume. Stewart managed to distill the thousands of interactions he experienced on his month-long walk into revealing vignettes that amuse, instruct, terrify, and sadden us. That he developed a deep and abiding respect for Afghanistan and it's people is obvious and infectious. I was pleased to learn of his return to Kabul, and of his role as Executive Director the Turquoise Mountain Foundation of Kabul. I'd give much to be there with him.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    Rory Stewart has written a beautiful book about Afghanistan -- from the perspective of the ground. I have never read anything like it.

    When I bought "The Places in Between," I expected it to be well-written and interesting. I did not expect to become personally involved in Agha Rory's deeply meaningful quest to walk across Afghanistan. I was grateful that the obligation of hospitality required good treatment of a guest, and I was personally offended when the hospitality fell short. In contrast to my response, the author does not judge. He desribes what he sees of this war-torn country with rich but brutal traditions colliding with Soviet, Taliban, and the very recent (in the winter of 2001 and 2002) US led invasion.

    It felt like the author was recording his thoughts and sending me a letter every few days describing his journey, the country, and the people along the way. I really enjoyed my journey -- minus blisters, dysentery, and extreme weather. When I finished the book, I immediately missed Agha Rory and hearing about his amazing adventure.

    I recommend the book for young adults, book clubs, and the adventerous at heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great story of a journey and a country.

    Anyone interested even the slightest in Afghanistan and it's people should read this book. It's a great story about the author's journey across the country (on foot no less) and all of the people that he meets and interacts with. Not only is it a great travel tale but the author also brings great historical perspective to bear on his experiences which gives the reader an even greater insight into Afghanistan.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Journey through ancient Afganistan to today's war torn country

    I loved this book. A modern day Marco Polo interweaves his walking journey across Afganistan with this beautiful country's history. This story makes me wish I were more adventursome and could have done something such as this. It also gave me a peek into another world that is still firmly rooted in the 11th century, a different culture of tribal war lords, and a sampling of Afganistan's history that will break your heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2007

    Amazing story that needed to be told

    This should be required reading for anyone who thinks Americans can just walk into a country and that we can then democratize it. The most insightful passage in the book stated how Afghanis have PTSD. Unfortuately, it's not post, it's continual. Mr. Stewart could have expanded more on Afghanistan's modern history of years and years and years of war. But I think that would, unfortunately, have been less appealing for the popular reader. It was evident that he was ill for most of his journey as the days seemed to blur together & I find it amazing not only that he completed his goal, but that he was able to write about at all. It's not the best travel book I've ever read, but it is undoubtedly one of the most amazing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2007

    A Recommendation.

    As a fanatic of travel narratives, I've read very many, and this is one of the best. I loved this book, and would recommend it highly. For those who felt the same way - I urge you to read A Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Siberian Adventure, Travel, and Survival by George Kennan, which follows an expedition through Siberia in the 1860s.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2006

    THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR JOURNEY MR STEWART

    'Someone in Kabul told me a crazy Scotsman walked from Herat to Kabul right after the fall of the Taliban' Thanks for the book. For it was indeed a journey of great spirit and determination. Mr. Stewart was well prepared for this trip with vitamins and various medications he knew would be necessary to successfully complete this challenge ibuprofen, antibiotics, just name it and he had it sharing with the villagers he met on his way when they saw what he had and begged him. Well written, well told. I was truly impressed with how hospitable the people of Afghanistan were those whom he encountered and offered him rest and meals and at times water to wash with, at their various humble abodes where he was invited to stay for the night. Even through they understood little English, Mr. Stewart was able to communicate to them by speaking Persian. I love reading about anything in the Eastern and Asian side of the world, so I was with him all the way. I felt like I was alongside him as he climbed those steep slopes and when he walked on the flat valleys. I drank tea with Mr. Stewart from glass cups, ate stale bread with him and soup, and enjoyed the rest at the end of the day, sleeping on a carpet or just on the floor. The attention given to him was enormous as he persevered onwards. My main concern was just before he got to Kabul when he had to travel through the deep powdery snow which was known to cause frostbite, making it necessary to amputate limbs for some in the past. I held my breath as he and his dog companion Babur made it out of the snow covered mountains, and alas into another bright day. God bless you Rory Stewart. I will soon be starting Prince of the Marshes, which sounds like another winner but to those of you out there looking for a Christmas gift or other, buy The Places In Between first, for you won't be disappointed. An excellent gift, especially for travellers!!! Reviewed by Heather Marshall Negahdar (SUGAR-CANE 25/11/06)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2011

    Amazing

    This book has an amazing plot and yet it is somehow odd to think that someone would do that especially right after september 11th,thank you Mr. RORY STEWART!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2007

    An amazing encounter.

    The Places in Between is a remarkable and timely book. The author's 'behind the scenes' journey through Afghanistan is an amazing adventure, history and sociology. I was amazed at the author's humble account of the people who make up this treacherous route of Afghanistan. I was moved by Mr. Stewart's descriptions and his wonderful way with words. He is a remarkable storyteller and has written an account that is stirring in its¿ thoughtfulness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2006

    I've never seen a book shine as much as this one

    There are tons of political books out there on the current situation in the Middle East. None of them that I have heard of, however, offer this view. 'The Places in Between' by the amazing Rory Stewart, is the story of how Rory walked across Afghanistan with, as seen on the cover, the aid of two men Qasim and Abdul Haq, as well as Qasim's brother-in-law Aziz, who joined with them later. They later, one by one, left him to walk alone. On his journey, he met men both kind and suspicious, welcoming and intimidating. He also adopts a dog whom he names Babur, who is meant to be a fighting dog. However Rory adopts him rather as a friend, a companion. Don't expect the story to be perfect Rory becomes ill with dysentery at one point in the story, is shot at in the night, and children in one town even throw rocks at him. He is also, at one point, in the middle of a fight, which he unlikely recieves a black eye from. many of the people Rory meets in this book are kind and welcoming. I have heard many of his interviews some authors are not are good speakers as well as authors. Rory is not one of these- he speaks in a kind,dignified voice he seems a very kind man, and I highly respect his opinions (I find myself agreeing with several of his points). This book is probably one of the best we have seen in a while Rory is truly an amazing man. Children should not need Spiderman, Tom Cruise, or Paris Hilton as heroes Rory is a true hero. He might never be able to explain quite why he did this, and we might never really know either, but Rory is a man to look up to brave for doing this in all aspects! Who would be able to do this, especially in times of war? Rory Stewart has written a brilliant book that should one day be counted among the classics, and he is now my hero as well. Brilliant job Mr. Stewart here is to a bright future to you, may we see another book from you. You truly shine!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2006

    Stewart's journey was extrodinary.

    A facinating book. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2006

    I couldn't put it down

    This is one of those books I didn't want to end. It is beautifully written, grabbing your attention from the first page, and very intellectually satisfying. The author travels through villages of different ethnic backgrounds, pointing out the present conditions, the conditions 20 years ago, 100 years ago, 500 years ago, etc. I learned a lot of history and was entertained while doing it. One of the best books I have read in a long time (and I read a lot!)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2006

    An astonishing, magical, gripping travelogue that sparkles like a gem

    In the year 2000, Oxford educated Rory Stewart listened to his heart and quit a promising career with the British Foreign Office to pursue his dream to walk across Central and South Asia. In January 2002, after the fall of the Taliban, he arrived in Afghanistan without a visa. By now he had already walked across Iran, Nepal, India and Pakistan. This was his second attempt to enter the country. During his first, the Taliban denied him permission to continue. This time, however, with a new government in place, he was given permission, but with a precondition, a prediction, and also a warning. The precondition was that he must always travel with an armed escort provided by the government. The prediction and warning were that if he traveled alone he will die because of the deep snow. ¿¿.3 meters of snow in the high passes. There are wolves, and this is a war. You will die. I can guarantee.¿ He is also told that he is tourist number one since the new government took office two weeks ago. The author¿s intention was to walk across Afghanistan from Herat through the central mountains of Ghor to Kabul, retracing the path that the Mogul Emperor Babur the Great took during his travel through Afghanistan in the 16th century. Babur was the first Mogul emperor who ruled India for a brief period from 1526 until his death in 1530. During his travel Rory Stewart befriends a dog, a retired, burly, fighting mastiff, unloved and much abused, earless and tailless, and as big as a ¿small pony¿. The dog, whom he names Babur after the Mogul emperor, becomes his traveling companion. The eventual parting of the dog, even though stripped of melodrama and written with restraint, is heart-wrenching, nevertheless. The author knows Urdu and Persian, and two of its several dialects¿ the Iranian dialect, and the Afghani dialect known as Dari, which certainly helped him to communicate well with the local people and save his life on occasion also. Babur, too, helps him to survive in a snow storm, once prodding and encouraging him by barking to try at lease one more time to extricate him self when he is trapped in deep snow. Written in crystalline prose with humor, wit, clarity and precision reminiscent of the great writer Arundhati Roy, but lacking her passion, the book is astonishing, magical and gripping, and it sparkles like a gem. Reading it I felt much joy, which I rarely derive these days from the mediocre books on the best seller lists. The only shortcoming I acutely felt was the author¿s clasp-like grip on his emotion, his fierce determination to shield his narration from revealing any tenderness, God forbid, he might have felt towards the people of Afghanistan and especially towards the loyal and valiant Babur. This may be because of his military training and his brief employment with the British Army, and his deep involvement with the British Foreign Office. After all, real men don¿t cry, do they?

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