Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is the true story of a mountaineer (Mortenson) who having failed an attempt on K2 in the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan was instead driven to build schools for impoverished children in that region.
The book is not not very well written in my opinion. The author, David Oliver Relin adds some background information that does not seem necessasy to the story. Various sidenotes on the history that would be interesting in and of themselves seem to pop out of nowhere and then disappear. They seem to be just thrown in as filler. I found the first half the most interesting when he begins to learn the culture of the people of Pakistan and goes through the rigamorale of raising money and acquiring the materials to build his first school. The parts to do with the Taliban are interesting but not very eye-opening. Later chapters revolve around the time of 9/11 and Mortenson was trying to extend his school building mission into Afghanistan. He was in the region when the invasion of Afghanistan began.
I did learn more about the tribal structure of Pakistan and it becomes quite apparent why Pakistan is not a country in the traditional sense of the word. The tribes and their leaders hold more sway over the day to day lives of these people than the government in Islamabad. It is easy to see why wars fought in this region tend to go bad for the invader.
I found myself skimming the last few chapters. I’m not sure if this was because of the controversy surrounding the truth of the story was making me look at it more cynically but I think it was more to do with the style of writing.
There has been a couple of expose’s recently that question the authenticity of the story and whether events he tells actually happened the way they are portrayed and even if some of them even happened at all. Regardless of the controversy it is still admirable that someone had such intentions and did follow through with them to some degree.
I am planning to read Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit, which supposedly exposes some of the untruths in this novel. I enjoyed Krakauer’s Into Thin Air about the commercialization of Mt. Everest. He also wrote Into the Wild the true story of Christopher McCandless the rich college graduate who dropped out of society to pursue a life “on the land”. The book was made into a film a few years ago.
Overall I enjoyed how the Islam culture of the Pakistani people was revealed and the hardiness those people must have to live at those altitudes and cut off from the world. It is interesting to see that they are like us, wanting the best for their children for the most part and balancing a life betweern modern culture while still preserving their religious heritage. Just like us, there are good people trying to improve the lot of their villages and bad people who will use whatever means they can to preserve their grips on power.