Written by Kim Barker
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
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.
Kim Barker was The Chicago Tribune's South Asia Bureau Chief from 2004 to 2009, much of which she spent living in and reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban Shuffle comprises her recollections of these years, but make no mistake: this is not your parents' war correspondent's memoir. In fact, to hear this charismatic debut author tell of life in war-torn Kabul during these years, you'd think it was a more-or-less non-stop party. Journalism is famously known as a business for which "if it bleeds, it leads," and with a fresh war raging in Iraq, Barker initially faced long stretches of relative quiet. As a result, an absurd, often promiscuous subculture grew up among her fellow reporters. (Think M*A*S*H with a dash of Catch-22.) Of course, it wasn't all fun, games, and the occasional heavy petting. Barker's reporting eventually brings her into contact with warlords, fundamentalists, and drug kingpins, and she does get blood on her hands (quite literally). As the action heats up and the Taliban begins slowly to regroup, she finds herself reporting on and fending off a host of unsavory types, from anonymous gropers in crowded streets to former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who woos her shamelessly, breaking all manner of internationally recognized rules of professional decorum. After five years of these "Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Barker finally returns to the States with a one-of-a-kind memoir, a true story that's rife with both black humor and brutal honesty about the absurdities of war. --Jason Kirk
War correspondent Barker first started reporting from Afghanistan in 2003, when the war there was lazy and insignificant. She was just learning to navigate Afghan culture, one caught between warring factions, and struggling to get space in her newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Lulled into complacency, everyone from the U.S. military to the Afghan diplomatic corps to the Pakistani government stumbled as the Taliban regrouped. Very frank and honest, Barker admits a host of mistakes, including gross cultural ignorance that often put her in danger even as she found Afghanistan similar in some ways to Montana, her home state, what with �bearded men in pickup trucks stocked with guns and hate for the government.� She reports a string of characters: an amorous Pakistani former prime minister, a flashy Afghan American diplomat, an assortment of warlords, drug lords, fundamentalists, politicians, and fellow correspondents struck by wanderlust and plagued by messy personal lives�all of them against a backdrop of declining war coverage in declining American newspapers. A personal, insightful look at covering an ambivalent war in a complicated region. --Vanessa Bush
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Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (March 22, 2011)
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