Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Barker, a journalist for ProPublica, offers a candid and darkly comic account of her eight years as an international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Afghanistan and Pakistan, beginning shortly after September 11. With self-deprecation and a keen eye for the absurd, Barker describes her evolution from a green, fill-in correspondent to an adrenaline junkie who gets hit on by Nawaz Sharif, former Pakistani prime minister, and becomes adept in 'how to find money in a war zone, how to flatter a warlord, how to cover a suicide bombing, how to jump-start a car using a cord and a metal ladder.' Barker reveals how profoundly the U.S. continues to get Afghanistan wrong that American personnel in the country live in a bubble, rarely dealing with Afghans, that they trample on local customs by getting routinely and 'staggeringly' drunk despite Islam's prohibition of alcohol, and throw offensive costume parties at the Department for International Development (DFID). In equal measure, Barker elucidates the deep political ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S.'s role in today's 'whiplash between secularism and extremism,' and blasts Pakistan's leaders for destroying their nation through endless coups and power jockeying. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
About the Author
KIM BARKER joined the Chicago Tribune in 2001 and was South Asia bureau chief from 2004 to 2009. She currently holds the prestigious Edward R. Murrow press fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. She lives in New York City.