Understanding Afghanistan Through “The Places in Between”

51ovsktobil_ss500_Crazy people making crazy trips do the rest of us a good service – we can experience their adventures vicariously without the dangers and hassles. And Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between is a great example of this.

Stewart had decided to walk across northern Asia but a canceled visa had him take a circuitous route, walking for nearly a year and a half across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal before hearing that the Taliban had fallen at the end of 2001. He got back to Afghanistan to start a walk from Herat in the west across the country to Kabul in the east, and it’s this part of his longer journey which is the basis of The Places in Between. It was a risky time to be in Afghanistan, but that makes a more interesting story for us readers.

The book opens with an encounter with the Afghani Security Service at the Foreign Ministry, who don’t want Stewart to do his walk. They insist his takes their armed guards with him or they will expel him from Afghanistan. And so, the guards accompany him. While Stewart would clearly have preferred to be allowed to walk alone, his Afghani companions actually add lots of color to the story.

Every few days along the walk marks a new section in the book with a map showing the stops along the way – and the places in between. History, culture and geography intertwine and you’ll end up with a much clearer picture of a country that we often see in the news but where few of us have ever traveled.