By Rory Stewart
BookMattic's Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads' Rating: 3.87/5
The Places In Between brings you to a world that you never knew existed. The author, Rory Stewart sets out on a journey across Asia on foot and at all costs he avoids any other type of transportation.
The story centers around Rory's walk across Afghanistan following in the exact footsteps of Afghanistan's first Mughal Emperor named Babur. All in all taking place at the beginning of the American invasion in 2002 which made his travels more intense than it would have normally been at any other time. His purpose of walking months across Afghanistan was to document the culture after the Taliban leaders got brought down and the new government gradually getting set in place.
This is not just a story or an anthropological telling of culture, although it does have some excerpts from Babur's diary spread throughout the book in not such a logical order or sometimes seeming a little out of place, but a person's true experience and strongly opinionated perspective of the Afgan culture, religion, atmosphere, governmental structure and way of life. I find it amazing that Mr. Stewart would walk across a war torn nation without any weapons aside from his steel tipped walking stick which ends up getting broken at one point yet to find many humble but poor people that gratefully took him in for the night in their dirt floored, mud walled home.
Not all Rory's nights were spent in 'comfort' though. He ran across some people that were not so hospitable, where eventually he had to sleep in a stable or out in the open. Rory also had a set of guards that were required to go with him by the order of the new government under Ismail Khan's rule. They walked with him about half of the distance across Afghanistan. Each of these guards were unique and one of them even had a clean shaved face which is very rare for an Afgan. The clean shaven guard's favorite possession was his rifle. There was also the oldest guard which liked to make things up about Stewart when in conversation with their hosts. Rory would always end up correcting him but in the end ignored.
One of the most interesting things I found about The Places In Between was that each region Stewart walked through, the further he got away from the capital city, the more the citizens were separated from the government. It's as if they were their own country separated from the rest of the world, carrying on traditions from centuries before without knowing exactly what's happening in other parts of the country let alone the rest of the world. This aspect gets punctuated specially when he arrives in the Hazara region up in the mountains of Afghanistan. The Hazara are the most interesting people of Afganistan because their appearance is that of Mongolian decent. When reading this section of the book you get the impression that the Hazara are outcasts, cut off from the rest of Afganistan, due to their Asian looks and inability to grow beards.
Overall this is an interesting read with some facts that sometimes feel out of place and a little too much of repeatative meetings in hosts' homes throughout Rory Stewart's long journey on foot. While reading this you may or may not be able to connect with how the author feels and for his reasoning about walking so far but for me it just made me want to start walking.