This is my review of Three Cups Of Tea by Greg Mortenson,David Oliver Relin.
I was more interested than I expected to be in this account of the American Greg Mortensen's obsession with building schools in the remote, mountainous northern areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was despite the often toe-curlingly cringe-making journalese and frequent fulsome adulation of Mortensen – for some reason never just called "Greg" by David Oliver Relin who actually wrote the book.
The book succeeds on three counts: it conveys the wild beauty of the landscape, it makes us appreciate the dignity, intelligence and humour of the tribal people who live in communities, close to nature, in a manner which seems morally superior to that of the commercialised western world, and it also provides quite an effective potted history of an area which affects us all, in the light of the activities of Osama Bin Laden, the endless war in Afghanistan and instability of the nuclear state of Pakistan. Reading between the lines, "Three Cups of Tea" also provides an intriguing study of how Mortensen's background and personality have equipped him to achieve his goal.
The journalist Relin was apparently hired to create a marketing tool – along with the children's and Kindle versions of the book – to raise money for the cause. This is fair enough in view of the compelling argument that building schools to reduce ignorance is one of the most effective ways of countering the rise of terrorism amongst the disaffected youth whose lives have been ripped apart by war, for which they largely blame the US.
I suspect that some anecdotes may have gained in the telling, not least because Relin takes the liberty of describing Mortensen's past thoughts, even his dreams, in as great detail as if they are his own, and recreates verbatim conversations from years ago. I was irritated on almost every page by the style – an overloaded lorry "fishtailing" up rutted tracks between mighty "daggered" peaks that "garlanded" the town, and so on; Mortensen pacing round "powerless" rooms, meaning that they had no electricity, or sleeping until "motionlessness awoke him" ….. Yet, if this book gives some gung-ho Islamophobic Americans pause for thought it will have served a useful purpose.