Fills an important niche,
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This review is from: The Spy of the Heart (Paperback)
There are a few recent autobiographical accounts of westerners in Afghanistan, such as An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, The Places In Between and The Storyteller's Daughter: Return to a Lost Homeland. What makes this book different is the author's own very frank reflections on some of the difficulties in their life and their reasons for undertaking the task.
Those people who could travel to the region whilst skirting the conflicts of the late twentieth century there, and who had the eloquence to describe it, have given us some wonderful books, each with their own particular style. Like Jason Elliot and Rory Stewart, Darr was wanting to find out more by immersing himself in a completely different culture. Like Sariah Shah, he is sharing his thoughts on a personal background that draws him to the region. I feel the unique aspect here is the degree to which he is showing us everything about himself as a person and his thoughts. He is not setting himself up as anyone special for, if anything, he comes across as any other regular person trying to learn more and running into the difficulties that that brings. In a way his book is his offering to anyone who tries to get to the roots of something by whatever means. In some aspects it is similar to Adventures in Afghanistan but Darr comes across as more of an independent commentator and I feel that there is more reflexivity in this book. Although this may not be to everyone's liking, I think the way in which it is done is one of the selling points.
Anyone trying to grasp at something abstract in an alien environment will be stretching themselves to the point where things go wrong and lessons get learned the hard way. What I like about Darr is that he doesn't gloss over this. He does not appear to be trying to promote a certain image of himself or anyone else. I feel that this is his honest account of one part of his journey to develop himself and I am grateful that he had the courage to publish it. This book adds an informative extra layer amongst the many other works on Islam, Sufism, Afghanistan etc by academics or writers.
(I have not included Among the Dervishes or The Teachers of Gurdjieff in this review because they are now regarded by many as having been written by Idries Shah under a pseudonym. Some of the background to that controversy can be found in work produced by those who studied under both him and his older brother before they had a disagreement. One book that explains this is Fictions and Factions.)