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An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan Paperback – 20 Jul 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprints edition (20 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330371622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330371629
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

"A work of substance and style, witty and moving by turns, never less than wholly passionate . . . 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 Times" (London)
"The surprise of the year: a lyrical, unrestrained and enthralling account of a journey into Afghanistan . . . I loved this book." --"Daily Telegraph"""
"This extraordinary debut is an account of Elliot's two visits to Afghanistan. . . The result is some of the finest travel writing in recent years. With its luminous descriptions of the people, the landscape (even when pockmarked by landmines), and Sufism, this book has all the hallmarks of a classic, and it puts Elliot in the same league as Robert Byron and Bruce Chatwin." --"Library Journal"
""An Unexpected Light" is often unexpectedly funny and constantly perceptive, but it is also profound."--Jason Goodwin, "The New York Times Book Revie"w
"Elliot is an enthralling writer with a great gift for evoking places, people and atmosphere, from the pastoral calm of a fertile valley to the terrifying sights and sounds of war." --Merle Rubin, "Los Angeles Times"
"Lyrical . . . alluring . . . a poignant remembrance, hued in the mixed reds of war and sunset, that comes close to a place that has already changed beyond imagination." --Paula Newberg, "San Francisco Chronicle Book Review"
"Humorous, honest and wry . . . [Elliot's] literary talents are exceptional. His sonorous prose moves forward with the purposeful grace of a river." --"Publishers Weekly" (starred)
""An Unexpected Light" is an unexpected gift . . . Elliot's account is vivid and should broaden the reader's comprehension of an often misunderstood country." --Jonathan Shipley, " Columbus Dispatch"

"An unexpected gift...Elliot's account is vivid and should broaden the reader's comprehension of an often misunderstood country." --Jonathan Shipley, "The""Columbus Dispatch "

"If Elliot hasn't already been likened to T. E. Lawrence, then I'll do the honors now." --"The Guardian" (London)"The author's impressive knowledge of Afghanistan's history, his seemingly boundless affection for its people, his understanding and respect for their culture and religion, and his flair for the language make this more than a casual travelogue. It is a plaintive love song whose discordant notes are provided by daily encounters with violence, hardship, and poverty." --"Kirkus Reviews"

"Elliot's observational gems, when glimpsed as a whole, offer a fascinating mosaic of revelations....Illuminating, astute, and timely." --"USA Today"""An Unexpected Light" thoughtfully lays out new and overlooked information that policy-makers in the U.S. and the West as a whole need when trying to decide what may work." --Robert A. Lincoln, "Richmond-Times Dispatch"
"I am sure this book will soon be among the classics of travel." --Doris Lessing
"An astonishing debut: one of the most remarkable travel books this decade." --Willam Dalrymple


A work of substance and style, witty and moving by turns, never less than wholly passionate . . . 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 Times (London)"

The surprise of the year: a lyrical, unrestrained and enthralling account of a journey into Afghanistan . . . I loved this book. "Daily Telegraph"

This extraordinary debut is an account of Elliot's two visits to Afghanistan. . . The result is some of the finest travel writing in recent years. With its luminous descriptions of the people, the landscape (even when pockmarked by landmines), and Sufism, this book has all the hallmarks of a classic, and it puts Elliot in the same league as Robert Byron and Bruce Chatwin. "Library Journal"

"An Unexpected Light" is often unexpectedly funny and constantly perceptive, but it is also profound. "Jason Goodwin, The New York Times Book Review"

Elliot is an enthralling writer with a great gift for evoking places, people and atmosphere, from the pastoral calm of a fertile valley to the terrifying sights and sounds of war. "Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times"

Lyrical . . . alluring . . . a poignant remembrance, hued in the mixed reds of war and sunset, that comes close to a place that has already changed beyond imagination. "Paula Newberg, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review"

Humorous, honest and wry . . . [Elliot's] literary talents are exceptional. His sonorous prose moves forward with the purposeful grace of a river. "Publishers Weekly (starred)"

"An Unexpected Light" is an unexpected gift . . . Elliot's account is vivid and should broaden the reader's comprehension of an often misunderstood country. "Jonathan Shipley, Columbus Dispatch"

An unexpected gift Elliot's account is vivid and should broaden the reader's comprehension of an often misunderstood country. "Jonathan Shipley, The Columbus Dispatch"

If Elliot hasn't already been likened to T. E. Lawrence, then I'll do the honors now. "The Guardian (London)"

The author's impressive knowledge of Afghanistan's history, his seemingly boundless affection for its people, his understanding and respect for their culture and religion, and his flair for the language make this more than a casual travelogue. It is a plaintive love song whose discordant notes are provided by daily encounters with violence, hardship, and poverty. "Kirkus Reviews"

Elliot's observational gems, when glimpsed as a whole, offer a fascinating mosaic of revelations. Illuminating, astute, and timely. "USA Today"

"An Unexpected Light" thoughtfully lays out new and overlooked information that policy-makers in the U.S. and the West as a whole need when trying to decide what may work. "Robert A. Lincoln, Richmond-Times Dispatch"

I am sure this book will soon be among the classics of travel. "Doris Lessing"

An astonishing debut: one of the most remarkable travel books this decade. "Willam Dalrymple"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By A. Ross TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 Aug. 2001
Format: Paperback
Afghanistan's current inaccessibility to Westerners presents a paradox of sorts: on the one hand, travelogues have a long tradition of providing armchair portraits of countries and people not easy visited, and on the other hand, in extreme cases such as contemporary Afghanistan, the difficulties in moving into and around such a country make such travelogues all the rarer. We should be therefore be grateful for this book, in which Jason Elliot recounts his travels and impressions from a trip made in 1979 as a teenager, and a trip 20 years later when he had learned Persian. It's a very traditional and endearing piece of travel literature, full of evocative descriptions of the sights and sounds, and most importantly, the people. While the book has plenty of the other usual travelogue elements-detailed descriptions of perilous trips in overstuffed decrepit vehicles, beautiful descriptions of obscure but astonishing ancient ruins, digestible tidbits of history, and asides of longing for unattainable women-the book's greatest value comes from Elliot's sensitive treatment of the Afghans he meets and befriends. Far from being the religious totalitarianists commonly associated with the country, virtually everyone he meets-almost every one of whom is male-is unstintingly curious, tough, enduring, and most of all, warmly hospitable. When he does encounter the Taliban, he notes how other Afghans warily regard them as powerful outsiders, with no constituency save themselves. Indeed, Elliot, writing in 1999, seems to scoff at the notion of them ever controlling the entire country, as their brand of Islam is so at odds with the forms widely practiced in Afghanistan over history.Read more ›
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