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122 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan on a shoestring
When I read in early 2002 that Stewart was setting off from Herat to walk across the empty centre of Afghanistan in mid-winter I wrote him off as a dead man. I was wrong, and this is the account which explains what happened on that walk. Ismail Khan, no less, shared my profound doubts, as Stewart explains in his opening chapter.
Another reviewer has suggested that...
Published on 21 Jun 2004 by Orlando Gordouli

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book
How to review such a book for a general audience, not least because I am not expert on Afghanistan and so a member of that general audience.

I like to walk and was therefore interested in the story of a man who crossed Afghanistan on foot from East to West by the mountain route in winter. I know when I am outclassed and I felt it by page 2; but I enjoyed the...
Published on 11 Dec 2010 by Lawrence Upton


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122 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan on a shoestring, 21 Jun 2004
This review is from: The Places in Between (Hardcover)
When I read in early 2002 that Stewart was setting off from Herat to walk across the empty centre of Afghanistan in mid-winter I wrote him off as a dead man. I was wrong, and this is the account which explains what happened on that walk. Ismail Khan, no less, shared my profound doubts, as Stewart explains in his opening chapter.
Another reviewer has suggested that Stewart's account of his difficult, dangerous and fascinating journey still pales in comparison to that classic, Robert Byron's Road to Oxiana (who drove the route). I would argue that this is a great modern travel book, however, for three reasons. First, its honesty. Stewart makes clear how far he walked and when. There is no attempt to disguise a couple of weeks' experience as a great journey (viz Jason Elliott's An Unexpected Light, which I none the less enjoyed). He freely admits the times when he is wrong, stupid or unlucky. He does not pretend to speak the language fluently (though his self-admittedly patchy Farsi reveals endless insights). Secondly, its humour. Where Byron set up the 'natives' in set-pieces of condescendingly picaresque farce, Stewart allows the spirit and character of Afghans to speak for itself. So while it made me laugh out loud again and again, I never felt that he was milking the episodes or laughing at the characters. Thirdly, its literary quality. The account is highly focussed on the politics, local history and personalities as encountered place by place on the walk. This could have made for a rather dry, plodding account but the neat serialisation of events in bite sized chapters maintains the pace and style. The walk's Winterreise feel (much crunching of snow underfoot and chancing on hearty hospitality in remote villages after a hard day's walk) could easily have been over romanticised, but Stewart's style is too well crafted and succinct for that.
If I have a bone to pick with the book it is that Stewart only passed through the area over 36 days. It is clear when he really engages with a place that he does so very deeply, with a relentless interest in the everyday lives of his subjects. While I would not blame him for wanting to get on (dysentery, hostile locals, -40 degree temperatures, the danger of snowfall blocking the passes, locals interested in his wallet etc), I did wish he had stayed in one one place for longer.
This is first class travel writing. I was left feeling I understood a whole lot more about Afghanistan, having enjoyed a deeply engrossing read.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR JOURNEY MR STEWART, 28 Nov 2006
By 
Heather Negahdar ""Haze"" (Bridgetown, Barbados) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Places in Between (Paperback)
"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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book, 11 Dec 2010
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This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
How to review such a book for a general audience, not least because I am not expert on Afghanistan and so a member of that general audience.

I like to walk and was therefore interested in the story of a man who crossed Afghanistan on foot from East to West by the mountain route in winter. I know when I am outclassed and I felt it by page 2; but I enjoyed the book none the less. I didn't, for instance, think it an odd thing to do make that walk. I found it quite comprehensible.

The more I learned about Rory Stewart, the less - on principle - I liked him. Primarily, he is a Conservative and that makes him deeply suspect to me. Secondly he warms to soldiers and their jolly humour.

After I had read it, I mentioned the book to one who does know a lot about Afghanistan; and he seemed dismissive but in an odd way. After a few exchanges, he said "He's MI6" Really? "Of course, he is"

I had not thought of that.

I can't see any evidence in the text and I can't see a slant; but maybe I am being stupid.

Of the book itself, I cannot speak too highly. I have already spoken of it to a group who meet intermittently to discuss books they have read.

I learned a great deal. I would have learned it more permanently and a lot better if the maps had been up to it. They are good maps but inappropriately presented; and now I really have little sense of the journey in map terms, to use a lumbering phrase. I coped; but I could have been helped.

A substantial part of the book concerns his relationship with the dog Babur; and that was done well. It could have been sentimentalised; but Stewart reaches out in his writing to this animal with something approaching empathy and certainly with respect yet without sentimentalising.

Technically, his writing is very good. It's clear. It'e elegant. It's quite understated and it might be possible to miss his tone sometimes if one were rushing through the text. He's observant. He's critical. He seems emotionally honest though tough. He's quietly funny.

The MI6 remark stays in my head; as does an awareness that such things are often not clear cut. If the security services are going in for writing travel books, this one would be evidence that they are potentially good at it; and that they are becoming less dangerous to us -- I don't think many would be tempted to follow Stewart. It's quite clear how risky his journey was and how fitted he was for it, physically, temperamentally and linguistically. Dartmoore and Bodmin are enough for me.

The inductive conclusion he reaches about the significance of the splendidly titled Citadel of Jam (and you'll have to read the book to learn that significance) triggered the archaeologist manque in me and I still grieve for the lost data as Afghans destroy their history without, apparently, having any concept of what history in our sense is: I do not propose any cultural relativism to alleviate my judgment on the vandalism of separating artefacts from their contexts in order to sell them. On the other hand, I have not experienced the poverty so many of them experience every day.

And I recall that within my lifetime a farmer ploughed up a good part of a Romano-British village in West Cornwall to use the land, having calculated the statutory fine against the use value of the land. I doubt that he has any idea of history either. It's not about Afghans; it's about ignorance there and idiots here.

It's a book I can imagine returning to. It's certainly a book I recommend, more - in my case - for what it tells you both of the country and of human nature - than for the adventure. I haven't spoken of what one learns of human nature from this book; but there is much. Stewart is shrewd in what he sees and in what he passes on.

He is judgmental; but he is not condemnatory; and I find it worth my while now and then to wonder if my slight dislike, or perhaps it is mistrust, reflects more about my lack of broad experience and a narrowness of tolerance in me than any flaw in him.

That questioning, too, is attributable to this book. It has that level of intellectual energy. It will make you think. Don't read it unless you want to think.

Lawrence Upton
11th December 2010
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional in a thousand ways, 5 Mar 2005
This review is from: The Places in Between (Hardcover)
This is a very intelligent book - funny, moving and surprising -It is very understated so it takes time to realise how many different kinds of book it actually is. It is, for example:
An adventure story - describing the incredible dangers of walking across Afghanistan in a war at winter, finding lost cities and dodging Taliban with his companion and friend, Babur the dog.
Exploration: there is no record of any foreigner walking the length of Afghanistan since Babur in 1506 - and no-one before Stewart is known to have done it alone and unsupported.
Literature: his clean, uncluttered prose is moving and beautiful.
But also a work of scholarship: anyone who knows the interior of Afghanistan can confirm that Stewart's understanding of Afghan culture is exceptional - he speaks farsi and has really covered the ground. He is informed and careful and there are no cheap stereotypes. It is simultaneously:
anthropology (he stayed in over five hundred village houses on the walk),
archaeology (the finding of the lost city);
political science (his analysis as a diplomat of nation-building in Afghanistan)
and history (he follows and examines the diaries of the Emperor Babur and his solo crossing in winter calls into questions a number of historical assumptions about Afghanistan and its inaccessibility).
The Places in Between is a unique form of travel-writing: in which the journey, the prose, the erudition and the honesty of the writer are equally admirable. Buy it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Following in Babur's footsteps, 13 Mar 2010
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
"The Places in Between" is the chronicle of Rory Stewart's journey by foot from Herat to Kabul, accompanied by nothing else but the occasional villager or passing soldier and his local dog, named Babur. This is a fitting name because Stewart, who would later be appointed to an important government post in occupied Iraq (The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq), not only wants to explore the beautiful Afghan landscape but also study the traces of its history in the present. The original Babur was one of the few leaders in Afghan history who had united the whole territory and who considered it central to his empire, and he is particularly interesting because he left an autobiographical text which is remarkable for its honesty, its objectivity, and its insight into the norms of those days. With these two Baburs, knowledge of local language and customs, and a bag full of medication, Rory Stewart sets out to traverse the sublime deserts and snow-capped mountains of central Afghanistan.

The tale is very well written and makes for easy and highly compelling reading. It is a telling fact that he makes his journey, which consists in essence out of endlessly repeated harsh day marches from one village chief's tent to the next, interesting to people who have never even been near the area. Stewart is very nonjudgmental overall, probably in part because he is entirely reliant on the kindness of strangers (who are often as hostile as they are hospitable to travellers) in the classic manner of travel writing. The book sheds some light on the highly complicated chain of political and ethnic conflicts within Afghanistan - almost every Afghan male has fought in at least one, if not more, war in the country. It is clear that loyalties are usually not quite as clear-cut as one would like them to be in order to understand them: very often the same feudal lords who had opposed the Taliban later joined them, and sometimes Iran-supported islamists are the greatest enemies of local chieftains, and so forth. Stewart's book does not really delve into political analysis, but certainly shows 'ad oculos' what the real meaning of politics is in Afghanistan.

All this is not to say that Stewart is necessarily an entirely reliable guide. The American edition of the book indicates that Rick Loomis took pictures of him along the way, but having a cameraman along is not mentioned anywhere. Moreover, it is clear from the facts that Stewart has been in the British Army, knows Dari as well as local politics thoroughly, has been involved with the Kennedy School of Government and finally his later appointment as governor in the occupying government in Iraq, that it is highly likely that he is a spy of some sort. Given this fact, the fact that Stewart was allowed to undertake his trip at all is quite remarkable, and it does seem some strings were pulled to make it possible. Of course, he himself says nothing about this. The result in any case is an insightful and highly readable book that will appeal to anyone interested in Afghanistan.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written account of a courageous journey, 23 Jun 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
Rory Stewart walked across Northern Afghanistan in the January after the Taliban fell following the route of the famous Moghul emperor Babur. The outcome is this amazing book which combines a straightforward narrative of the journey with erudition and insight into a country that has been at war with itself and many hostile outsiders for hundreds of years. Stewart never judges his hosts, many of whom live lives of extreme hardship. he listens [as he understands their language,Dari]and shares in their simple lives with great humility. He also writes the most beautiful poetic prose. It is a joy to read.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars --, 21 Jun 2004
By 
PR Stanley-Baker (Hong Kong, HK Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Places in Between (Hardcover)
This is 'l'étranger' on the march, the estranged young man on a fierce road. Relentless courage and determination lurk on every page. In a style as sparse and hard as the extraordinary remoteness of the spaces travelled and written, his text leaves us to imagine much more. He brings us a vivid picture of the people, their battles with one another, their compelling warmth and hospitality, backed with a running commentary on Emperor Babur's journey from Herat to Kabul in an equally impassable winter in 1507; also, his war-dog companion, and an inherent, pointed critique of generalised solutions for Afghanistan. A must-read, and not for the meek.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the footsteps of kings, 8 Sep 2006
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
Rory Stewart appears to be a very impressive man; not only has he survived strolling along one of the most treacherous paths conceivable, but has, at the end of it, written a rather fine book.

The Places in Between gives insight without being invasive and the reader is treated with the same respect as those Stewart meets on his travels. The prose is crisp and clean as freshly fallen snow on a mountain pass, yet its subject lends the writing an air of lyricism and beauty. Never labouring a description or point, Stewart is as quick to move on in his telling of the story as he is from every host that welcomes him into their home, setting a determined but agreeable pace. There is a clear narrative with a goal in sight from the beginning, separating this book from so much travel-writing and giving all the plot satisfaction of a novel.

To those who enjoyed books such as Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light, I heartily commend this book - it is, although perhaps not really comparable, much better.

I look forward to reading Stewart's new book, Occupational Hazards, and hope that his new project, The Turquoise Mountain Foundation, inspires him to write further.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing that leaves the reader wanting more, 29 July 2007
By 
Seb M (Melbourne VIC AUS) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
This is a good book. I wouldn't put it in my top ten, but it's left me thinking that Stewart's other book will make it to my top ten.

The problem isn't Stewart's writing by any means. He has an incredible ability to characterise people and places with minute but not superfluous detail. He feels and breathes where he visits with a passion that is apparent in every sentence. His writing style is educated, intellectual and involved without being academic. It is a good read.

The problem is the material. This wasn't a reconstructive journey, or one inspired by lust, death or politics. There is history - but one gets the impression Stewart wanted to immerse himself in Afghanistan before he found out the history. And the walk just doesn't give him enough time to immerse himself in any single place.

He has such a gift at reporting on people that giving most characters and places only a page or two scarcely does justice to the potential of this book. And then...well...the sequence of events in most towns appears to be the same: struggle to get accommodated, get questioned, avoid the sharks, be treated without deference.

Stewart does bring in culture - particularly with regards to the Hazara: but I wish this was more of a guide - not literally - but with a little more third person narrative about the people, a little more history than observation. This would have given the reader more to bite off at each interlude - a full education, and a sense of familiarity. Alternatively, a more pacey, less educated style might have brought the reader into the sense of danger without interrupting the tension to detail the tribal hierarchies of the region.

Alternating between an abbreviated history of the people and the tension of a walk through hostile territory didn't do it for me. If this had been any old book, I'd have just moved on to another one half way through: but I stuck with it and became frustrated because Stewart writes so well.

All this said, the book would be highly enjoyable to somebody who already understands Afghanistan and for whom the brief histories were a soothing stroke of the traveller's spine, an allusion to familiarity rather than their entire knowledge of Afghanistan.

This book describes a walk that I would love to have done. And as someone incapable of writing I am in no position to critique a book this good so harshly. I just wish he had given us something more. It's cheeky to ask - but a few minor additions would have gone a long way to easing the reader into relating to the places visited.

Stewart has the gift, and the walk had the potential. This should have been an amazing book but for the simple omissions of pictures of the journey, coloured route maps, coloured terrain and ethnic maps; pictures of the Baburs, and some standlone chapter introductions...

Nevertheless, I'm afraid to say I'd have to recommend you at least start the book and form your own opinion; because if you enjoy the writing of genuine adventurers, this is the best writing I've found this Millenium.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Entertaining, 18 Dec 2006
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
Rory Stewart layers his narrative in THE PLACES IN BETWEEN so that every event and impression has numerous interpretations, as well as a rich undercurrent of contradiction. Rory achieves this layering primarily through continual reference to three narrative presences.

First, there is Rory himself, an informed westerner familiar with Afghan culture, history, and religion, who is on what the Afghans view as an odd and dangerous quest to walk across their country. This presence is the vulnerable, but by no means helpless, European traveler.

Next, there is Babur, an unwanted semi-domesticated mastiff that becomes Rory's companion for most of his journey. Here, the relationship is the key, with Rory, the Westerner, developing an affectionate dependence on Babur, his dog. But in Afghanistan, such a dog is valued for its ability to fight and to make money for its wagering owner. It's more complicated than this. But, the presence of Babur enables Rory to explore the tension between his Western expectations and the gladiatorial expectations that have arisen in impoverished Afghanistan, which has been brutalized by 25 years of continuing warfare.

Finally, there is Babur, a king and warrior who fought with his army across Afghanistan in the early 1500s. This Babur left an elegant narrative poem describing his adventures as he passed through a succession of cultures, some wealthy, where there were generous social customs and a diversity of religions.

See how it works? At any time in the narrative, there is the informed and resourceful Rory, Babur the dog and shabby warrior, and Babur, the king, warrior, and cultural historian. Thanks to this technique, Rory Stewart always has lots to say as he makes his fascinating journey from Herat to Kabul.

Two quick final points:

First, the implicit question posed by this book is: Does our nation building in Afghanistan stand a chance? Based on Rory's narrative, I'd say there is no foundation in remote central Afghanistan for the creation of, in the words of the UN Assistance mission, "a centralized, broad-based, multi-ethnic government committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law." Instead, let's first try something practical, like re-supplying the country with sheep, which have been lost over 25 years of war or slaughtered by the Taliban.

Second, the lawless fragmentation and continual warfare in Afghanistan is a tragedy from multiple perspectives. But one is that this chaos has enabled the plunder of the country's archeological heritage. Everyone, read Rory's amazing chapters on the Minaret of Jam. You'll see why artifacts from lost civilizations in Central Asia are now available at auction in Paris.
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The Places In Between by Rory Stewart (Paperback - 1 April 2005)
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