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An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan [Paperback]

Jason Elliot
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

20 July 2007

An Unexpected Light, Travels in Afghanistan was greeted on publication by universal critical acclaim and is now widely acknowledged as the most influential contemporary work of Afghanistan. Written on the eve of 9/11, at the height of Afghanistan’s isolation from the world, Jason Elliot’s uncannily prescient account of his winter journey through the country torn by civil war is as pertinent today as it was then.

Winner of the Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph Travel Book Award in the UK and a New York Times Bestseller in the USA, it recounts the author’s daring and passionate investigation into an extraordinary culture, first as a clandestine guest of the mujaheddin during the Soviet occupation, and ten years later during the Taleban advance on the besieged capital, Kabul.

This new edition of An Unexpected Light is illustrated with the author’s photographs and celebrates a classic work of travel literature.

‘Jason Elliot is that rare traveller who surrenders himself to people and places and this tale is a many-layered reconstruction of his experience . . . I am sure this book will soon be among the classics of travel’


An Unexpected Light is often unexpectedly funny and constantly perceptive, but it is also profound’ New York Times

‘What raises the book to the level of a classic is its intensely personal meditation on the magic of unplanned adventure, of the pain and pleasure of pushing into the unknown. The whole book, like Elliot’s travels themselves, operated on this heightened level’ The Times

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (20 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330371622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330371629
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Ever since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, this mysterious, romantic country has been shrouded in obscurity. As the Soviets forbade western reporters to enter the war zone and the Afghan fighters, the mujaheddin, found themselves inaccurately portrayed as savage, religious zealots, Afghanistan quietly slipped off the front page and into media obscurity. This veiled the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who lost their lives and the third of the population that fled into exile. However, in the schoolboy imagination of Jason Elliot back in the late 1970s, Afghanistan took a profound hold: "The Afghans seemed to belong to a different world, for which I was developing an inarticulate hunger; a people of prototypical human dignity, with Old Testament faces, who with guns almost as ancient as themselves were trying (and succeeding) to shoot down the latest in helicopter gunships". Still in his teens, Elliot set off for Kabul and the result, nearly 20 years later, is An Unexpected Light, the remarkable account of Elliot's travels in this extraordinary country, first in the midst of Soviet occupation and then in the face of the rise of the Taliban to power in the 1990s.

An Unexpected Light takes its title from Elliot's enduring wonder at his first encounter with Kabul, where "even as we stepped into its unaccustomed brightness that first morning, it seemed probable we had entered a world in some way enchanted, for which we lacked the proper measure". It is this inability to completely capture a country and a people with which Elliot falls in love that characterises this ambitious, sprawling book. Elliot's travels are truly extraordinary, from his teenage experiences with the mujaheddin in their campaigns against the Soviets to his truly hair-raising travels to the north of the country and often very funny evocation of the expatriate community of war-torn Kabul. However, in describing his travels Elliot also meditates among other things on the significance of travel, the tortured multicultural history of Afghanistan, "the results of successive clashings together of an impressive list of civilisations" and the worldly mysticism of Sufism. At times Elliot takes on too much, the prose becomes too lush and poetically congested and the book could have done with sharp editorial pruning, as it feels at least 50 pages too long at its close. Nevertheless, it is this diffuse nature that makes An Unexpected Light such a vivid and original piece of travel writing, based on a series of dramatic adventures. What emerges throughout is the remarkable generosity and placidity of a people who have been more accidentally enmeshed in violent conflict than congenitally predisposed towards embracing warfare.

Elliot recalls that prior to his first departure in the late 1970s, an amused Afghan diplomat suggested that "maybe one day you'll write a book about Afghanistan". In An Unexpected Light Afghanistan has finally received the loving, sympathetic and poetic book that it deserves. --Jerry Brotton

About the Author

Jason Elliot lives in London. His second book, Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran, is also published by Picador.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
By Natasha
Reading this book was akin to falling in love!...the only way this reader, at least, can describe the emotions generated by Jason Elliot's erudite, passionate account of his intense journey through Afghanistan. His journey is lyrically revealed and the reader drawn to share it with a vividness and understanding only a writer of such descriptive genius could engender. In tandem with his physical journey, Jason also reflects spiritually on his experiences which somehow lifts this personal journey into a universal context and pulls the reader even closer into feeling empathy and human brotherhood with not only the author, but the Afghanis themselves and their country.
I'd pick up this book every time with unfailing excitement, joy and curiosity as to where it would take me next, and what I would discover. The sense of warmth with which the author distills his story is overpowering and infectious. He clearly loves the country, its people, its culture and its language dearly, and much of this affection cannot but be rubbed off onto the reader. Alternatingly thoughtful, comical, scholarly and intimate, the spectrum of emotion and experience traversed is so wide, as to produce a true feeling of bonding between reader, author and subject-matter.
The book generated in me a two-pronged opening of the heart - one, to this amazingly beautiful and hospitable country, and two, to the author - whose erudition in the background of the country, its history, its language (even to the extent of reading and writing Persian) and culture left me with uncalculable respect for him. (Quite apart from being such a nice bloke and interesting companion, that it's a real pleasure to spend hours in his company!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human side of Afghanistan 31 May 2002
By A Customer
Thoroughly recommended to anyone with a sense of curiosity about a people shrouded in mystery. Jason Elliott has succeeded in revealing in an 'unexpected light' the multi-faceted character of Afghanistan and the Afghans. As a sympathetic, sensitive and often transparent traveller, he has been allowed access to even the most sacrosanct of Afghan rituals, and has even lived as a 'mujaheddin'. What is most affecting, however, is the sense of the Afghan spirit and humanity that Elliott conveys. In a country that continues to be shattered by the most inhumane of wars, I urge everyone with a sense of morality to read it and understand that Afghanistan is not simply an obscure Central Asian province that breeds so-called Holy Martyrs, but a beautiful, complex and characterful country which must surely have a happier future ahead of it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intricate writing of a traveller in afghanistan 10 Dec 2001
This book is a fascinating read... The author doesn't just give you a travelogue of Afghanistan, he ingratiates you into its culture, the people and the sheer hardship they endure whilst maintaining a friendly and generous attitude. Elliot struck me as a very brave chap, either that or he went native. Approaching the odd warlord, black turbaned Taliban soldier with a gun, or walking through mountain passes that had been mined from the Russian invasion was all part of his remit in writing this intensely interesting book. I must admit Afgan culture was not top of my reading list until I saw that this book had won the Thomas Cook/ Daily Telegraph travel book award (a feat in itself). Winning this award has been good recommendation in the past for other travel books i've read, and this is the case again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I have read many many travel books but this must be in the top 10, alongside authors like Peter Fleming's central Asian journey to Tartary. Jason has written a captivating account of very entrepid travels in much of Afghanistan. His descriptions of the people and their life are vivid and enchanting, and his attempts to test himself with unplanned journeys into the most dificult areas leave one full of admiration. When he fails to reach the wild central regions of Bamiyan in winter one shares his disappointment and relief. The early effect of the Taleban on Afghanistan are also discovered in Herat. I was left wondering what he will write next. One half hopes he will go back and visit areas that he was unable to reach last time, perhaps venturing into Nuristan.Whatever, a true classic, and readers might be interested to buy the 2 wonderful books of photographs by Roland & Sabrina Michaud of Afghanistan and Tartary from Thames & Hudson. They lived in Afghanistan for 14 years before the '79 Soviet invasion and made a unique photographic accompaniment to Jason Elliott's more literary effort. Both a discovery to be treasured and returned to.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An extraordinary book that transcends the bounds of travelogue and gives us deep and personal insight into one of the most the world's most inaccessible regions. Elliot's Afghan friends and travel companions convey, in the midst of the grief and difficulty of war, an enviable warmth and humour that has made the country a favourite of travellers for decades before the Soviet invasion. There are many hair raising trips in overloaded trucks over vertiginous mountain passes, lavish descriptions of ruins seldom seen by westerners, and intriguing historical facts from this crossroads of peoples for the traveller, adventurer and historian. Elliot writes from the heart and out of love for the Afghan people and land and this shines through on every page more than any such book I've read since Thesiger's Arabian Sands (and upon inspection, even Thesiger's motives begin to seem cloudy compared with Elliots affection and respect for his subjects). You will put this book down with a profound respect for the Afghan people and immense desire to visit this land... I cannot recommend this book highly enough - if you read it you will soon find yourself searching through old travel guides and looking for a way to travel the roads of Afghanistan first hand.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and complex recounting of travel in Afghanistan.
An excellent and compelling account of travel and history in one of our most beautiful and war torn of countries.
Published 4 months ago by Mme turk
5.0 out of 5 stars amzing read
really fascinating story, very well written and I'm left very jealous that I'll probably never see any of these places
Published 6 months ago by Alex
3.0 out of 5 stars fantastic in parts
i started reading this book ten years ago and was gripped by his wonderful evocations of the landscape, the people and his reactions. i stopped half-way through. Read more
Published 15 months ago by sue
4.0 out of 5 stars Aghanistan
A wonderful read that is interesting and informative. I regret that most of us know little about this country and we should because in our names we are waging a war there. Read more
Published 19 months ago by billtheray
5.0 out of 5 stars An emotional journey
This was a most moving and heart rending journey into a country that has been raped and ravaged for too long by governments pursuing their own ends. Read more
Published 19 months ago by blackford gardener
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Book about a Warn Torn Country
A lyrical and poetic travel book. It is beautifully written and you undrestnd how he immersed himself in the country
Published 21 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars loved it, genuinely informative
I loved this, the first of Jason Elliot's books I read. It opened up my understanding of Afghanistan so much. Indeed his prose can sometimes be a bit involved! Read more
Published on 3 Feb 2012 by Terryandhelen
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unexpected My Life
For me, this book finished what 'The Kite Runner'- started...It affirmed my full-blown love affair with Afghanistan, the culture, the history, the people... Read more
Published on 28 July 2011 by Desisisters
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic
I have read many books about Afghanistan and all fall short of really transporting you to this magnificent land apart from this one. Read more
Published on 30 Nov 2009 by S. Rowe
4.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan book
This book arrived on time. It is the first time I have purchased second hand & the book is in very good condition. Read more
Published on 4 Nov 2009 by Mick Miller
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