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

4.3 out of 5 stars 49 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 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 124,694 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

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""

"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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