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Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Timeby Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Synopses & Reviews
In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan's Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time — Greg Mortenson's one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.
Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin has collaborated on this spellbinding account of Mortenson's incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are often feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself. At last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world — one school at a time.
"Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse's unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world's second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town's first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson's efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers' hearts." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The harsh beauty of Afghanistan has always lured a certain hardy breed of Westerner, and the few who linger there inevitably become both addicted and disillusioned. Despite the overthrow of the repressive Taliban and the advent of democracy in 2001, the country continues to vex as much as it inspires — and the continuing deep U.S. involvement in its rebirth compels us to examine why. In... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) her aptly titled 'Kabul in Winter,' Ann Jones, a journalist and women's rights activist, presents an especially bleak portrait of post-Taliban Afghanistan, depicting a cruel and opportunistic place where foreign aid money vanishes into a thousand tunic pockets, where women are trapped in prisons of family and cultural tradition, and where concepts such as accountability and the rule of law are often viewed as naive, foreign abstractions. Much of what Jones writes rings true, especially about the thick barriers that thwart her attempts to promote the legal rights of Afghan women. And some of her descriptions approach poetry: 'Kabul in winter is the color of the dust ... a fine particulate lifted by winds from old stone mountains and sifted over the city like flour .... Dust fills the lungs, tightens the chest, lies in the eyes like gravel, so that you look out on this obscure drab landscape always through something like tears.' Unfortunately, Jones, who writes frequently on women and violence, tends to veer into sarcastic, semi-vulgar and unsubstantiated diatribes against the Bush administration and U.S. foreign policy, thus undermining the power of her argument. She repeatedly refers to the current president as 'Bush the Lesser' and glibly tars all U.S. officials as people who 'knew nothing about Afghanistan and cared less,' except as a potential venue for an oil pipeline. Despite these lapses, Jones' book gathers power as it goes on, and her anger serves her increasingly well as she compiles a painstaking litany of frustrations and failures in her mission to help Afghan women. She skewers the hypocrisy of a culture that forces women to 'keep themselves under wraps' as a protection from the 'uncontrollable God-given sexual appetites of men.' Imposing the burden of 'honor' on women, she points out, 'frees men to live as they please' but makes them fearful and cruel. A Muslim woman, she concludes, 'wears the whole weight of the Islamic world.' Jones visits girls in hospitals who have tried to burn themselves to death rather than face the shame of not having proven their virginity by bleeding on their wedding nights. She visits a prison where young women are confined for such sexually related 'crimes' as running away from abusive husbands. Many recount tangled tales of forced marriages, family rejection and sexual enslavement. The common theme is the powerlessness of human property. 'Murder a favored wife,' Jones notes grimly, 'and you owe her family ... four new copies of the Quran, four women, and one fat sheep.' Most depressing of all are her efforts to get the local legal establishment to defend women's rights. Even female lawyers at the brand-new Ministry of Women's Affairs treat her with indifference, suspicion and bafflement. 'In my country it is against the law for a husband to hit his wife,' Jones tells them. 'In Afghanistan not,' they reply, in halting English. 'In my country it is against the law to force a young girl to marry an old man she doesn't want to marry,' Jones says. The lawyers shake their heads. 'In Afghanistan not. In my country is custom,' one says. Toward the end, the book relapses briefly into a sputtering indictment of red tape and corruption in foreign aid programs. But Jones' bitterness is eminently understandable. Afghanistan is a fledgling democracy, backed by Western money and might, but it is still often a society of survivors without pity that blames the victim and steals what it can from those who try to help. We are left with the indelible image of a winter night in Kabul as Jones listens impotently to the howls of chained dogs freezing to death in backyards, their owners too poor and beaten down to heed them. Greg Mortenson is another American drawn to the same forbidding region, determined to make a humanizing mark. After a failed attempt to climb the deadly K2 peak in 1993, Mortenson was taken in by a poor Pakistani village — and taken with the idea of building that village a school. Despite its pinky-raising title, 'Three Cups of Tea' is a swashbuckling, sprawling adventure tale in which we accompany the former 'climbing bum' across mountain passes and wobbly bridges on a mission to open schools for village children in northern Pakistan. Like Jones, he encounters obstacles at every turn — from Muslim clerics who forbid girls to attend his school, to tribal militiamen who kidnap him, to wily local leaders who attempt to divert his largess for their own ends. Mortenson is surely right that education is key to the battle with jihadists for Muslim minds. But unlike Jones' sharply observed, frequently lyrical memoir, Mortenson's book is full of self-indulgent digressions, clunky prose and odd, hagiographic references to himself. In one passage, we learn that 'thousands of people likewise sang Mortenson's praises,' while one villager thanks 'Almighty Allah and Mister Greg Mortenson' for a new school. There's even a highlighted quote from a profile in Parade magazine that describes him as 'quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists.' The problem stems in part from the awkward construction of the book, which is written as an admiring, extended third-person interview by its co-author, journalist David Oliver Relin. He acknowledges being in awe of Mortenson, but his efforts to build him up often fall flat. And Relin's metaphors often seem like parodies: 'Mortenson sat on a boulder and drank from his water bottle ... but he couldn't drink in enough of this setting.' We also learn far too much about Mortenson's domestic life and fundraising travails back in the States — none of which is nearly as interesting as the characters and situations he encounters in the remote tribal regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Here, Relin's prose gains both altitude and insight. When a Muslim guide kneels to pray in a parking lot, 'the belief rippling around him was ... powerful enough to convert a gas station into a holy place.' Among some tribes, patience is a way of life: Just as a hunter from Pakistan's Balti people 'would stalk a single ibex for days' to save a precious bullet that he could not afford to squander, 'a Balti groom might wait years for his marriage' until his betrothed child bride was old enough to leave home. Mortenson's mission is admirable, his conviction unassailable, his territory exotic and his timing excellent. His story would have been better served, though, by a tougher editor and a book that was shorter, leaner and freer of fawning. Pamela Constable, a deputy foreign editor at The Washington Post, was the paper's South Asia bureau chief from 1999 to 2002 and its Kabul correspondent from 2002 to 2004." Reviewed by Pamela Constable, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"'[B]y delivering what his country will not, Mortenson is 'fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted,' [coauthor] Relin writes. This inspiring, adventure-filled book makes that case admirably." Kirkus Reviews
"Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time. Greg Mortenson's dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it's proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world." Tom Brokaw
"Greg Mortenson represents the best of America. He's my hero. And after you read Three Cups of Tea, he'll be your hero, too." U.S. representative Mary Bono (R-Calif.)
"Three Cups of Tea is beautifully written. It is also a critically important book at this time in history. The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are both failing their students on a massive scale. The work Mortenson is doing, providing the poorest students with a balanced education, is making them much more difficult for the extremist madrassas to recruit." Ahmed Rashid, best-selling author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
"Laced with drama, danger, romance, and good deeds, Mortenson's story serves as a reminder of the power of a good idea and the strength inherent in one person's passionate determination to persevere against enormous obstacles." Christian Science Monitor
The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban’s backyard
Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.
About the Author
Greg Mortenson is the director of the Central Asia Institute. A resident of Montana, he spends several months of the year in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
David Oliver Relin is a contributing editor for Parade Magazine and Skiing Magazine. He has won more than forty national awards for his work as a writer and editor.
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