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Monday, June 7, 2010

Good read 4 Afghanistan...


An Unexpected Light by Jason Elliot


Book review by Mikkela Thompson



Fresh out of school at the age of 19, Jason Elliot embarks on the adventure he dreamed of as a boy. An Unexpected Light is already considered a classic travelogue about Afghanistan. It covers a decade of Jason Elliots travels in Afghanistan starting with his first summer vacation adventure in the mid-1980s. As Jason says in his introduction, I had in mind a quietly epic sort of journey, the kind you no longer hear of much; no tailored expedition, but a route guided by events themselves. In An Unexpected Light, he takes us, as he discusses with the Ambassador of Afghanistan, to where “another red line wound westwards towards the megalithic Buddhas of Bamiyan, the turquoise lakes of Band-i Amir, the lonely minaret of Jam and the springs and shrines of Chest-i Sharif; a manageable route by jeep, if the roads were not blocked by snow.”



Certain places saturate the emotions. Afghanistan is just such a place. The omnipresence of the brackets of life survival and death, ignite the writers mind. Young Jason describes the land of Afghanistan with painterly dexterity. His writing diverts into the flowery at times but he intersperses the jacquard tapestry of his adjectives with verbatim conversations. He meets many Afghans but most of the telling conversations are with the journalists, diplomats, relief workers and other travelers he meets. One night, returning after curfew from an embassy party, he writes, “I skirted another checkpoint. What if some Taleb on a rooftop saw me skulking along the road and began to shoot?” Though the landscape and history of Afghanistan are intricately described, Jason Elliot hints only occasionally at his inner landscape. This detachment makes An Unexpected Light an insightful outsider’s view of Afghanistan.



A textbook purely of historical facts might bore some readers. Page after page of anecdotes about cockroaches might repel other readers. In An Unexpected Light, I found the harsh realities of Afghanistan easier to read about because of Mr. Elliots insulating literary flights of hyperbole: “We came down, as a ghost sinks through a wall, beneath a canopy of sculpted cloud, and circled the magnificent cradle of mountains surrounding the Shomali plain in the absinthine light of the setting sun.”


I thought it a worthwhile read, from the safety of my armchair.


***thanks to Mikkela for this excellent review!  If you would like to have your book review or comment appear on this blog please write us at floaskut@state.gov or just post it as a comment.....What do you think was this a good book? 

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