Top positive review
Edge of your seat stuff
4 June 2013
To be honest, I'd been put off reading this as Rory Stewart - since his travels - has become a Tory MP (for Penrith and the Border) and I, wrongly, imagined that this book might be condescending and aloof.
So much for political prejudices... it's a brilliant read, with fresh writing and a sense of both empathy and sympathy for the Afghan regions through which he rambles - incredibly bravely facing up to questioning by members of the Taleban along the way, soon after 9/11.
With a stick, a grasp of local languages, stamina, a sense of curiosity and an admission that he's not really sure why he's doing it (which is the mystery of much travel), he sets off. His analysis of the tribes he meets and the juxtaposition of his own journey with that of Babur - the first emperor of Mughal India - brings depth to his antics, exploits and near misses: he is shot at once and dices with death on many occasions. Land mines by the side of the track... throat-cutters after his cash... white out snow storms on vertiginous peaks.
He is given a dog - whom he names Babur and who joins him (reminding me a little of Travels with a Donkey). This adds great colour and, often, comedy.
Stewart's simple but important point is well made: that most foreign policymakers haven't a clue what actually happens on the ground in the countries in which they interfere and seem to care even less for local culture than did 19th century colonialists. If only they'd bother to take a look around (but they're too 'important' for that).