Book Review: The Taliban Shuffle
As a lover of politics, feminism and international relations, the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot looks like it might hit a sweet spot between all three of these interests – the Tina Fey-helmed movie tells the story of a foreign correspondent following conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the decade following 9/11. While I’m excited to see the movie, watching the trailer reminded me that I actually own the book., And the movie trailer featured an exciting cast including Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman – this led me to take the volume off my shelf and dust it off.
I’ll be honest – if the movie is anything like the book, I’d probably skip it. The 488-page volume follows Kim Barker, a Chicago Tribune journalist, who is asked by her paper to cover Afghanistan, right at the opening of the Iraq War. Left out of the action as most journalists race to cover the excitement in Iraq, she peers into life in the “Graveyard of Empires,” delving into the myriad of relationships and grudges that characterize the quagmire in Afghanistan.
What could have been an interesting take on the conflicts that she witnessed, though, becomes an unruly, disorganized and hard to follow romp through the country, and its neighbour Pakistan. Meetings with warlords are interspersed with numerous stories about failed romantic relationships.
The difference between these two dynamics results in a book which flounders where it attempts to create moments of gravity. One example of this is when Barker attends Benazir Bhutto’s funeral while simultaneously failing to amuse with her personal anecdotes. Barker is honest about her own short-comings in relationships, both romantic and professional, with locals in the region, and this is interesting. However, at is also off-putting. For example, Baker describes Kabul as a high school, referring to the city as “Kabul High” – a kind of place where one needs to “graduate”.
“if the movie is anything like the book, I’d probably skip it.”
In place of this book I recommend I Wouldn’t Start from Here: The 21st Century and How It All Went Wrong, by Andrew Mueller. The Aussie former rock journalist tells succinct but deeply interesting and analytical stories about the various countries and conflict zones he has reported from, and is so funny that I cry with laughter every time I read it. I’m serious – you’ve never laughed this hard learning about the challenges of bilingualism in the Cameroon, or cultural exchanges in the West Bank.
The jacket of this book describes Barker as “laugh-out-loud funny” – I would have to disagree. At best, you end up with a fleeting smile and even more confused about this region than when you started If you want to learn more about why Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” I would recommend Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile, (which also has a movie counterpart, if you like Tom Hanks).
All in all – two stars out of five. For once I hope that the movie is better than the book.
Sakshi Sharma (1L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.