Travel narrative is one of my favorite forms of writing…I can settle down and be in another country for a long time very happily – and I’ve read a lot of travel narrative.
The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart, is one of the very best – and about a place that is fascinating to me – Afghanistan. Rory has also written The Prince of the Marshes, about Iraq, and was a guest columnist for the New York Times in March. He now directs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul, to save an archaelogical site he found on his lonesome walk across Afghanistan, right after the fall of the Taliban.
With simple descriptive prose, few adjectives, nearly as spare as Hemingway, Scotsman Rory makes us smell the aromas and breath the cold air with him. A journey, a vocation, a need – he himself is not sure why he walked. But the beauty, the poverty, the anger, the cold, the near death he and Babur, the mastiff who attached himself to Rory, experienced are reason enough.
The sweep of ancient history and of current history follow us on this trail, the mix of peoples, and their languages, beliefs, ideas that have climbed these peaks and dwelt in these valleys , the wars and infrequent peace – Rory presents all of it with understanding and respect.
Afghanistan is no simple puzzle, but is a beautiful one.