The Places in Between

The Places in Between

4.2 40
by Rory Stewart

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In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan-surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers…  See more details below


In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan-surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers' floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way Stewart met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers. He was also adopted by an unexpected companion-a retired fighting mastiff he named Babur in honor of Afghanistan's first Mughal emperor, in whose footsteps the pair was following.
Through these encounters-by turns touching, con-founding, surprising, and funny-Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology, and allegiance that shape life in the map's countless places in between.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Bissell
The book is replete with fascinating, if fearfully context-dependent, travel tips. If you are forced to lie about being a Muslim, claim you're from Indonesia, a Muslim nation few non-Indonesian Muslims know much about. Open land undefiled by sheep droppings has most likely been mined. If you're taking your donkey to high altitudes, slice open its nostrils to allow greater oxygen flow. Don't carry detailed maps, since they tend to suggest 007 affinities. If, finally, you're determined to do something as recklessly stupid as walk across a war zone, your surest bet to quash all the inevitable criticism is to write a flat-out masterpiece. Stewart did. Stewart has. The Places in Between is, in very nearly every sense, too good to be true.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
We never really find out why Stewart decided to walk across Afghanistan only a few months after the Taliban were deposed, but what emerges from the last leg of his two-year journey across Asia is a lesson in good travel writing. By turns harrowing and meditative, Stewart's trek through Afghanistan in the footsteps of the 15th-century emperor Babur is edifying at every step, grounded by his knowledge of local history, politics and dialects. His prose is lean and unsentimental: whether pushing through chest-high snow in the mountains of Hazarajat or through villages still under de facto Taliban control, his descriptions offer a cool assessment of a landscape and a people eviscerated by war, forgotten by time and isolated by geography. The well-oiled apparatus of his writing mimics a dispassionate camera shutter in its precision. But if we are to accompany someone on such a highly personal quest, we want to know who that person is. Unfortunately, Stewart shares little emotional background; the writer's identity is discerned best by inference. Sometimes we get the sense he cares more for preserving history than for the people who live in it (and for whom historical knowledge would be luxury). But remembering Geraldo Rivera's gunslinging escapades, perhaps we could use less sap and more clarity about this troubled and fascinating country. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Engaging and eminently readable...A masterly job."
Kirkus Reviews
"Remarkable...Gripping account of a courageous journey, observed with a scholar's eye and a humanitarian's heart."
Seattle Times
"Sets a new standard for cool nerve and hot determination...Sublimely written."
Christian Science Monitor
"A splendid tale that is by turns wryly humorous, intensely observant, and humanely unsentimental."
The Plain Dealer
"Stunning...Contribute[s] greatly not only to our reading pleasure, but to our understanding of Afghanistan."
The New York Times Book Review
"A flat-out masterpiece...In very nearly every sense, too good to be true."
Entertainment Weekly
" instant travel classic."
Seattle Times
"Sets a new standard for cool nerve and hot determination...Sublimely written."
From the Publisher


"A striding, glorious book . . . Learned but gentle, tough but humane, Stewart . . . writes with a mystic’s appreciation of the natural world, a novelist’s sense of character and a comedian’s sense of timing . . . A flat-out masterpiece . . . The Places in Between is, in very nearly every sense, too good to be true."—The New York Times Book Review
 "A splendid tale that is by turns wryly humorous, intensely observant, and humanely unsentimental."—Christian Science Monitor
"Stupendous . . . an instant travel classic."—Entertainment Weekly
"Stewart’s 36-day walk across Afghanistan, starting just weeks after the fall of the Taliban, sets a new standard for cool nerve and hot determination . . . His description of the landscapes he traverses makes you feel you’re accompanying him through a shifting, sculpted painting . . . Sublimely written."—The Seattle Times
"Stunning . . . That he has written a remarkable memoir of his trek might contribute greatly not only to our reading pleasure, but to our understanding of Afghanistan in the 21st century . . . The Places in Between effectively depicts the spectacularly stark landscape, the utter poverty and the devastation of decades of war. But far more interesting are the men . . . Stewart met along the way." —The Plain Dealer


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Read an Excerpt

The New Civil ­Service
I watched two men enter the lobby of the Hotel ­Mowafaq.
           Most Afghans seemed to glide up the center of the lobby staircase with their shawls trailing behind them like Venetian cloaks. But these men wore Western jackets, walked quietly, and stayed close to the banister. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the hotel ­manager.
           “Follow them.” He had never spoken to me ­before.
           “I’m sorry, no,” I said. “I am ­busy.”
           “Now. They are from the ­government.”
           I followed him to a room on a floor I didn’t know existed and he told me to take off my shoes and enter alone in my socks. The two men were seated on a heavy blackwood sofa, beside an aluminum spittoon. They were still wearing their shoes. I smiled. They did not. The lace curtains were drawn and there was no electricity in the city; the room was ­dark.
           “Chi kar mikonid?” (What are you doing?) asked the man in the black suit and collarless Iranian shirt. I expected him to stand and, in the normal way, shake hands and wish me peace. He remained ­seated.
           “Salaam aleikum” (Peace be with you), I said, and sat ­down.
           “Waleikum a­-­salaam. Chi kar mikonid?” he repeated quietly, leaning back and running his fat manicured hand along the purple velveteen arm of the sofa. His bouffant hair and goatee were neatly trimmed. I was conscious of not having shaved in eight ­weeks. 
           “I have explained what I am doing many times to His Excellency, Yuzufi, in the Foreign Ministry,” I said. “I was told to meet him again now. I am ­late.”
           A pulse was beating strongly in my neck. I tried to breathe slowly. Neither of us spoke. After a little while, I looked ­away.
           The thinner man drew out a small new radio, said something into it, and straightened his stiff jacket over his traditional shirt. I didn’t need to see the shoulder holster. I had already guessed they were members of the Security Service. They did not care what I said or what I thought of them. They had watched people through hidden cameras in bedrooms, in torture cells, and on execution grounds. They knew that, however I presented myself, I could be reduced. But why had they decided to question me? In the silence, I heard a car reversing in the courtyard and then the first notes of the call to ­prayer.
           “Let’s go,” said the man in the black suit. He told me to walk in front. On the stairs, I passed a waiter to whom I had spoken. He turned away. I was led to a small Japanese car parked on the dirt forecourt. The car’s paint job was new and it had been washed recently. They told me to sit in the back. There was nothing in the pockets or on the floorboards. It looked as though the car had just come from the factory. Without saying anything, they turned onto the main ­boulevard.
           It was January 2002. The American­-­led coalition was ending its bombardment of the Tora Bora complex; Usama Bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar had escaped; operations in Gardez were beginning. The new government taking over from the Taliban had been in place for two weeks. The laws banning television and female education had been dropped; political prisoners had been released; refugees were returning home; some women were coming out without veils. The UN and the U.S. military were running the basic infrastructure and food supplies. There was no frontier guard and I had entered the country without a visa. The Afghan government seemed to me hardly to exist. Yet these men were apparently well ­established.
           The car turned into the Foreign Ministry, and the gate guards saluted and stood back. As I climbed the stairs, I felt that I was moving unnaturally quickly and that the men had noticed this. A secretary showed us into Mr. Yuzufi’s office without knocking. For a moment Yuzufi stared at us from behind his desk. Then he stood, straightened his baggy pin­-­striped jacket, and showed the men to the most senior position in the room. They walked slowly on the linoleum flooring, looking at the furniture Yuzufi had managed to assemble since he had inherited an empty office: the splintered desk, the four mismatched filing cabinets in different shades of olive green, and the stove, which made the room smell strongly of gasoline.
           The week I had known Yuzufi comprised half his career in the Foreign Ministry. A fortnight earlier he had been in Pakistan. The day before he had given me tea and a boiled sweet, told me he admired my journey, laughed at a photograph of my father in a kilt, and discussed Persian poetry. This time he did not greet me but instead sat in a chair facing me and asked, “What has ­happened?”
           Before I could reply, the man with the goatee cut in. “What is this foreigner doing ­here?”
           “These men are from the Security Service,” said ­Yuzufi.
           I nodded. I noticed that Yuzufi had clasped his hands together and that his hands, like mine, were trembling ­slightly.
           “I will translate to make sure you understand what they are asking,” continued Yuzufi. “Tell them your intentions. Exactly as you told ­me.”
           I looked into the eyes of the man on my left. “I am planning to walk across Afghanistan. From Herat to Kabul. On foot.” I was not breathing deeply enough to complete my phrases. I was surprised they didn’t interrupt. “I am following in the footsteps of Babur, the first emperor of Mughal India. I want to get away from the roads. Journalists, aid workers, and tourists mostly travel by car, but I—”
           “There are no tourists,” said the man in the stiff jacket, who had not yet spoken. “You are the first tourist in Afghanistan. It is mid­winter—there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee. Do you want to ­die?”
           “Thank you very much for your advice. I note those three points.” I guessed from his tone that such advice was intended as an order. “But I have spoken to the Cabinet,” I said, misrepresenting a brief meeting with the young secretary to the Minister of Social Welfare. “I must do this ­journey.”
           “Do it in a year’s time,” said the man in the black ­suit.
           He had taken from Yuzufi the tattered evidence of my walk across South Asia and was examining it: the clipping from the newspaper in western Nepal, “Mr. Stewart is a pilgrim for peace”; the letter from the Conservator, Second Circle, Forestry Department, Himachal Pradesh, India, “Mr. Stewart, a Scot, is interested in the environment”; from a District Officer in the Punjab and a Secretary of the Interior in a Himalayan state and a Chief Engineer of the Pakistan Department of Irrigation requesting “All Executive Engineers (XENs) on the Lower Bari Doab to assist Mr. Stewart, who will be undertaking a journey on foot to research the history of the canal ­system.”
           “I have explained this,” I added, “to His Excellency the Emir’s son, the Minister of Social Welfare, when he also gave me a letter of ­introduction.”
           “From His Excellency Mir ­Wais?”
           “Here.” I handed over the sheet of letterhead paper I had received from the Minister’s secretary. “Mr. Stewart is a medieval antiquary interested in the anthropology of ­Herat.”
           “But it is not ­signed.”
           “Mr. Yuzufi lost the signed ­copy.”
           Yuzufi, who was staring at the ground, nodded ­slightly.
           The two men talked together for a few minutes. I did not try to follow what they were saying. I noticed, however, that they were using Iranian—not Afghan—Persian. This and their clothes and their manner made me think they had spent a great deal of time with the Iranian intelligence services. I had been questioned by the Iranians, who seemed to suspect me of being a spy. I did not want to be questioned by them ­again.
           The man in the stiff jacket said, “We will allow him to walk to Chaghcharan. But our gunmen will accompany him all the way.” Chaghcharan was halfway between Herat and Kabul and about a fortnight into my ­journey.
           The villagers with whom I was hoping to stay would be terrified by a secret police escort. This was presumably the point. But why were they letting me do the journey at all when they could expel me? I wondered if they were looking for money. “Thank you so much for your concern for my security,” I said, “but I am quite happy to take the risk. I have walked alone across the other Asian countries without any ­problems.”
           “You will take the escort,” said Yuzufi, interrupting for the first time. “That is ­nonnegotiable.”
           “But I have introductions to the local commanders. I will be much safer with them than with ­Heratis.”
           “You will go with our men,” he ­repeated.
           “I cannot afford to pay for an escort. I have no ­money.”
           “We were not expecting any money,” said the man in the stiff ­jacket.
           “This is nonnegotiable,” repeated Yuzufi. His broad knee was now jigging up and down. “If you refuse this you will be expelled from the country. They want to know how many of their gunmen you are ­taking.”
           “If it is compulsory, ­one.”
           “Two . . . with weapons,” said the man in the dark suit, “and you will leave ­tomorrow.”
           The two men stood up and left the room. They said good­-­bye to Yuzufi but not to ­me.

Copyright © Rory Stewart 2004
Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Rory Stewart
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or mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"[Stewart's] encounters with Afghans are tragic, touching and terrifying; they all have the ring of unembellished authenticity . . . A mature debut, and an intelligent and illuminating introduction to this fascinating, unfortunate country."

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The Places in Between 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
David-Herrick More than 1 year ago
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.
whitee More than 1 year ago
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.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
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.
readsinlb More than 1 year ago
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.
sdgjake More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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)
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Mark Iken More than 1 year ago
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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