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.
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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 ...
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).
Full Review (581 words).
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.
Pacha Khan Zadran: A powerful warlord and leader in Southern Afghanistan. Zadran 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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