I haven’t posted about a book in a long time. I haven’t been reading quite as much, it’s true. (The baby just learned to crawl. Heaven help me!) Mostly, though, I just got behind in my reviews. I have five to write after this one.
Anyways. I recently finished Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time, by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson. (Whenever a book has two authors, I’m always tempted to assume that only one of them did any actual writing. This book’s writing leads me to believe that Relin did the writing, after interviewing Mortenson extensively.)
The book is about Greg Mortenson’s efforts to build girls’ schools in Pakistan. Mortenson was a mountain-climbing addict (coming from a native Utahan, that means he did little else), until he tried to climb K2 in Pakistan. The climb nearly killed him, and as he staggered downward alone trying to find shelter, he stumbled upon a little mountain village. The villagers nursed him back to health. After seeing the conditions of children’s education in the village, he promised to return and build a school.
This prompted a shift: instead of spending all of his (abundant) enthusiasm and energy on climbing mountains, he began aggressively campaigning for funds and materials, returning year after year to work on the school. When rich contributors discovered the good he was doing, they put him in charge of building more schools, and he began working full-time in an effort to improve young women’s education in Pakistan.
This book was inspiring – Mortenson tells about Pakistani culture, his own adoption and admiration of some Muslim customs, and encourages understanding. Islam, he argues, is not the problem leading people to terrorism. A lack of education is what’s driving people to join terrorist, jihadist groups in order to feed their families. By improving education, Mortenson can not only help Pakistani families, but ensure greater world safety from groups like Al Qaeda.
I liked the book – but I didn’t love it. Be warned: the length of the title is a good indication of Relin’s writing style. He gives you the full story, whether or not you care about the details. For about the first half of the book, I cared. After that, I put the book down and forgot about it for a year, then finally plowed through it so I could take it off my “to-finish” list. And it was good – but it was not easy reading, and it got tedious.
There is, fortunately, a “young reader’s edition”, which I haven’t read, but would still recommend for those who want the story without an in-depth look at tribal factions within Pakistan.
I’ve heard some criticism that Mortenson’s work was not as successful as it’s been claimed to be. Ironically, that’s one of Mortenson’s main complaints in the book: he sometimes had to come back and reclaim or repair a school that had been taken by local authorities for other purposes. In some areas, the local people were thrilled to have their girls in school. In others, they were less enthusiastic (or openly hostile). All in all, though, I wouldn’t slight Mortenson for having some setbacks. He’s done more for women’s education in Pakistan in the last twenty years than anyone else. ♦