Monday, October 4, 2010

"The enemy is ignorance"

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a TimeI'm really not a fan of current histories, but Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson was recommended to me about a year ago and since then I'd heard about it from several other sources, too. I was reading (of course) while waiting for my car inspection and another customer (who didn't have a book) started talking to me (and I didn't get much reading done after that). And sometimes I guess you have to be careful about books that everyone is reading because often they're just not all that good (think Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code). And that's kind of the case here - I think it's mostly a good message, but... well, read on.

After failing in his attempt to climb K2, Greg Mortenson took a wrong trail on the way down the mountain and ended up in the small Pakistani village of Korphe. In return for their hospitality, Mortenson (who lived very modestly himself) promised to return and build a school for the children of the village. And from that humble beginning grew the Central Asia Institute which has since built over 100 schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan which educate both boys and girls. This book recounts the struggles Mortenson faced as he lived as frugally as possible in order to devote all his resources and energies to his projects. It relates the dangers he faced from hostile mujahedeen, Taliban officials, and conniving locals. It also tells of his own education as he learned that building relationships was as important as the projects themselves.

This is a very inspiring story. Mortenson has sacrificed much for a noble cause and it's nice to be reminded that a compassionate approach can be effective when the war efforts we hear in the news seem to be going nowhere. If we truly hope to help the people - and bring ALL our troops home - we need to combat the ignorance that terrorism feeds upon and show the area's people that we can rebuild as well as destroy. The impression we usually get is that we're up against the most intolerant religion imaginable, and it's good to hear that they don't all believe and think that way.

Unfortunately, it's also a rather poorly-written story. Although Mortenson is listed as the author, it's told by journalist David Relin who seems fond of flowery and overly descriptive drama that borders on fiction and strains the book's credibility at times. The ending sounds like a campaign for a Nobel Peace Prize but I think Mortenson will win no awards for Husband and Father of the Year as he comes off neglectful of his own wife and children back home. At one point the book discusses the stress and strain on his wife, but then quickly drops the subject in favor of more talk of her admiration for his work. The photo of their family Christmas card was a bit shocking (dressed in robes in Pakistan with their new baby girl and holding Kalashnikov rifles), and I couldn't help but suspect a vague undercurrent of anti-Americanism throughout.

But then again, maybe I'm just imagining things and if you can get past the overwrought prose it's not a bad message. And when it seems there's no end in sight for the wars we're fighting, maybe we need a different approach - one more like Mortenson's.


  1. Our book club read this but I was in the throes for thesis writing and didn't get to participate. I believe their discussion ran along the same lines.

    Maybe this is a "if I have extra time and have read everything else on my list" book.

    Thanks for another great review!

  2. You know, it really was a pretty good book, but you've got to get past the writing. Some people are going to love it, but...