Summary and book reviews of The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

The Taliban Shuffle

Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

By Kim Barker

The Taliban Shuffle
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2011,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2012,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

A true-life Catch-22 set in the deeply dysfunctional countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by one of the region's longest-serving correspondents. 

Kim Barker is not your typical, impassive foreign correspondent - she is candid, self-deprecating, laugh-out-loud funny. At first an awkward newbie in Afghanistan, she grows into a wisecracking, seasoned reporter with grave concerns about our ability to win hearts and minds in the region. In The Taliban Shuffle, Barker offers an insider's account of the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan and Pakistan, chronicling the years after America's initial routing of the Taliban, when we failed to finish the job. 

When Barker arrives in Kabul, foreign aid is at a record low, electricity is a pipe dream, and of the few remaining foreign troops, some aren't allowed out after dark. Meanwhile, in the vacuum left by the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban is regrouping as the Afghan and Pakistani governments flounder. Barker watches Afghan police recruits make a travesty of practice drills and observes the disorienting turnover of diplomatic staff. She is pursued romantically by the former prime minister of Pakistan and sees adrenaline-fueled colleagues disappear into the clutches of the Taliban. And as her love for these hapless countries grows, her hopes for their stability and security fade. 

Swift, funny, and wholly original, The Taliban Shuffle unforgettably captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a war zone.

Chapter 1
Welcome to the Terrordome

I had always wanted to meet a warlord. So we parked our van on the side of the beige road and walked up to the beige house, past dozens of skinny young soldiers brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing mismatched khaki outfits and rope belts hiked high on their waists. Several flaunted kohl eyeliner and tucked yellow flowers behind their ears. Others decorated their rifle butts with stickers of flowers and Indian movie starlets. Male ethnic Pashtuns loved flowers and black eyeliner and anything fluorescent or sparkly, maybe to make up for the beige terrain that stretched forever in Afghanistan, maybe to look pretty.

Outside the front door, my translator Farouq and I took off our shoes before walking inside and sitting cross-legged on the red cushions that lined the walls. The decorations spanned that narrow range between unicorn-loving prepubescent girl and utilitarian disco. Bright, glittery plastic flowers poked ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

At the beginning of The Taliban Shuffle, the dedication reads: "To the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are still waiting for the punchline." This sums up the tone of Kim Barker's excellent nonfiction book.¬†Covering her adventures in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a foreign reporter for The Chicago Tribune, The Taliban Shuffle is a sardonic, satirical piece of long-form journalism, tinged with bitterness.¬†Lacking much by way of an overriding¬†narrative, the book instead follows Barker in a magpie fashion as she tries to make sense of an impossible conflict, and in the process becomes both fascinated and emotionally tied to the country.   (Reviewed by Kevin Bartolotta).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City
"The Taliban Shuffle isn't like any other book out there about Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's witty, brilliant, and impossible to put down."

Kirkus Reviews

"Politically astute and clearly influenced by Hunter S. Thompson, Barker provides sharp commentary on the impotence of American foreign policy in South Asia after the victory against the Taliban... Fierce, funny and unflinchingly honest."

San Francisco Chronicle

"If you're looking for a window on the challenges facing Afghanistan and Pakistan today - from a resurgent Taliban to American incompetence to Afghan and Pakistani corruption and nepotism - Barker provides a sterling vantage point."

The Chicago Tribune

"The Taliban Shuffle is part war memoir, part tale of self-discovery that, thanks to Barker's biting honesty and wry wit, manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking."

Reader Reviews
Davee500

Distasteful Dribble
This book represents self-serving drivel from what I view as a failed journalist trying to justify her own self grandiose view of her ability to report on events in Afghanistan/Pakistan and India. Her references to being a "war/adrenalin junkie&...   Read More

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Key Players in Afghanistan & Pakistan

Some of the best parts of The Taliban Shuffle are Barker's encounters with various Afghan and Pakistani  high officials, all of whom are fairly eccentric characters.  But, inevitably, it becomes difficult to keep track of their names and positions. Here is a short list of some of the figures met in the book.

Afghanis

Pacha Khan Zadran: A powerful warlord and leader in Southern Afghanistan.  Afghani leadersZadran was involved in driving out the Taliban, but soon thereafter turned on US forces because, in Barker's opinion, "No one paid enough attention to him".

Zalmay Khalilzad: The US Ambassador to Afghanistan during the period covered in the book.  Khalilzad is described as being perpetually surrounded...

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