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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Business School Wives Book Club Part Two (Pakistan)

You find me sitting in my study, drinking coffee and reflecting on how much I enjoyed yesterday’s meeting of book club. If you are new to my blog – I belong to a book club of international ladies who have been thrown together in a small town outside Paris – and whose aim is to share and discuss literature originating from, reflective of or in some sense connected with our home country. This week was the turn of Pakistan and the book in the spotlight was the bestseller “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Three Cups of Tea has left a real mark on me. I find myself thinking about it at the petrol station and in the supermarket queue. I especially find myself thinking of it when I look at my huge collection of books – some read, some deserted mid-read, some on the increasingly ferocious “tbr” pile. I guess the point is that I can read them and I cannot imagine my life without literacy. Three Cups of Tea is not a work of great literature. David Oliver Relin’s writing is journalistic and although he builds suspense and character and keeps the momentum– the quality of the writing feels passable rather than good. What keeps this book afloat, what keeps it with its reader long after it is finished is the story itself – staggering, inspiring, brave – and true.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson and his mission to promote peace literacy and understanding in the northern areas of Pakistan. Mortenson begins the book as a trained nurse whose real passion is mountaineering. When his younger sister dies he attempts to climb the forbidding summit K2 in her memory. Extreme conditions, bad luck and dehydration get the better of him and freezing and exhausted he wanders into the remote Baltistan village of Korphe where he is shown kindness and generosity which will change his life and the lives of others for ever. After a long sleep and quite a few cups of tea Mortenson discovers to his horror that Korphe does not have a school. He promises that he will come back and build them one. So begins a epic story of one man, his overwhelming determination to help others, the strange paths of charity, the anatomy of trust and the perils of misunderstanding. There will be dangers and sorrows – there will be fatwas and kidnappings and attacks and even an impromptu (although not entirely consensual) party with the Taliban. Out of this landscape of fear and violence emerge many schools and many literate children.

It is a poignant moment in the narrative when Mortenson’s mentor – and the chief of Korphe village admits to the American his “greatest sadness” - that he cannot read. The urge to be educated is as powerful in the older generation who have lost out as it is in the younger generation who know that they have a chance. The physical privations of these people who live in huts and stay warm by the heat of Yak dung fires are shocking to the western mind. So much so, that their humanity and eagerness to learn in turn are also surprising – but then this is a book with which to challenge your preconceptions, not reinforce them.

It is impossible to overstate how unusual a person Greg Mortenson is. When his humanitarian spirit takes him away from his wife and child for months at a time and into the teeth of danger on the other side of the world – I do find it hard to relate to him. My conclusion is that if that kind of drive didn’t exist then nothing that was difficult would ever get done and sometimes, the better part of valour is putting incomprehension aside and accepting that all people don’t think alike. What is a real pleasure is watching Mortenson’s development from an enthusiastic bull in a china shop to a seasoned fundraiser, project manager and emissary. He is a good judge of character and knows when to lead and when to be tutored – but at the beginning of his mission he is too impatient and dismissive of the customs of Baltistan. Soon he learns that in order to succeed, and in order to truly cross the cultural boundary, he must make time to share three cups of tea.

The schools are built and the children are taught against an increasingly bloody background. The Taliban are on the rise and soon the news that “a village called New York has been bombed” will change everything. Mortenson’s schools – in which students, teachers and villagers remain committed to education in the worst of circumstances, are a fascinating window onto our recent history. Three Cups of Tea is an inspiring read – a lesson in what can be achieved when people from different cultures work together for peace and progress.

28 comments:

  1. That sounds incredibly awesome - inspiring certainly seems to be the word. What an amazing guy! (And I like the sound of your book group!)

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  2. I have to give a lot of credit to Greg Mortenson and his vision and actions. He truly is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing about this book with us. I'll have to look for it.

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  3. Dear Verity - hello! The book group is great fun. It is my turn next and I have got everyone reading Rebecca - I do hope that they all like it - I realised this morning that I may have presented them with a slightly odd view of British men and marriage!
    Hannah

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  4. Literary Feline - thanks for your comment - I agree that it is impossible not to admire the guy - his determination is amazing. Enjoy the book if you get hold of it!

    Hannah

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  5. Your book club sounds fantastic and this book has been on my TBR list for quite a while. Thanks for the lovely review :)

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  6. You are welcome kals... I hope that you enjoy

    Hannah

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  7. I love the idea of your book club....it is my dream to be in a book club but none around me read regularly :-/ This book sounds fantastic....the story definitely so...I guess the narration won't matter so much if the story is this good :) Will definitely read it and by the way, what is TBR?? And why does everyone keep talking about it?? I am guessing it is some kind of a book challenge?

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  8. Hi Vaishnavi - thanks so much for visiting and commenting - TBR stands for "to be read" book and refers to the big fat pile of extragegance and guilt that sits in my house...
    this is such a great book - and yes it is an example where the story just totally overpowers the other features.


    Hannah

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  9. This sounds like a book well worth reading—we hear too little of extraordinary people like Mortenson.

    And what a wonderful book club, sharing each of your unique cultures. If only the world could come together through books ...

    The cover reminds me of Reading Lolita in Tehran. I just finished Rooftops of Tehran, an excellent first novel by Mahbod Seraji. Review coming soon.

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  10. Hi Charlie - looking forward to that review! Thanks for visiting

    Hannah

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  11. I just read the follow up to this book, Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson. I couldn't imagine a world without education, without books. The work his organization is doing is so important. If you enjoyed this book I would recommend you read the latest one where he ventures into Afghanistan to build schools!

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  12. Kathleen - thanks very much for visiting and commenting. That does sound interesting and I think that I have spotted it in our English bookshop - so I may give it a go.
    Thanks and have a great week!
    Hannah

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  13. this book was used to great success in a one-book program in my town; everyone i know who's read it has loved it. You have a great blog by the way- I'm glad you stop by mine now and then because it's helped me discover yours!

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  14. I had a friend who was reading this on a trip recently. It seems like a really inspiring book!

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  15. Wonderful post! I wanted to return the visit--you have a great blog and I will be back to see you what you're sharing. :)

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  16. Marie - welcome! It is a really inspiring read and I heartily recommend it.

    Dana - I do hope that your friend enjoyed it. Thanks for visiting

    Jeannie - Thanks for visiting and welcome

    Have a great week all

    Hannah

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  17. What a lovely blog. This is my first visit. What a wonderful idea for a book club, and this book sounds like something I really have to read.

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  18. Hi Grad - welcome! Thanks for visiting and leaving such a kind comment. the book group is great and I am so looking forward to the great list of international books that we have waiting for us!

    Thanks for visiting

    Hannah

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  19. Three Cups of Tea is on my TBR list, along with Reading Lolita in Tehran. I like to think I belong to an enviable book club because, in warmer months, we meet before sunset on the beach. We set up food, wine, and books on a little table and watch the sun set. Glorious.

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  20. i've always wanted to read this book, but i haven't got the chance to do so. thanks for the review. :)

    will now follow your blog.

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  21. Bibliophiliac - I hope that you enjoy reading both bokos. i have not read Lolita in tehran but like the concept.. your book club sounds really wonderful... It is still rather cold here in France so book club outside is still rather a long way off! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    Mimi - welcome Mimi - thanks for visiting and commenting. I do hope that you get around to 3 cups of tea at some stage - it is a cracker.

    Thanks both,

    Hannah

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  22. I really like the sound of your book club Hannah - what a unique idea. Greg Mortenson is such an inspirational person - driven and passionate about causes dear to his heart - but often to the detriment of his family back home. I really enjoy true stories, especially ones of bravery and dedication - I must read this book. Thank you for a brilliant review Hannah.

    Jeanne x

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  23. Hi Jeanne -

    Thanks so much for your comment and I do hope you enjoy the book...

    Hannah

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  24. This is a wonderful review. I, too, enjoyed both his books. What a great idea that he started in the farthest reaches to start schools where people were the most receptive to his help.

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  25. Paul C - yes it is astonishing that he started with the hardest thing not the easiest - A really fascinating read. Thanks for visiting and commenting

    Hannah

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  26. Hi, Three Cups of Tea meant alot to me too. I read it just prior to me 2nd trip to India volunteering and it helped me keep things in perspective. http://thyme-for-tea.blogspot.com/2009/05/three-cups-of-tea.html

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  27. Hi Tamara - thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I think that 3 cups of tea would be an ideal book to read in your circumstances. thanks for your link - I shall go and take a look.

    Thanks indeed,

    Hannah

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  28. What lovely blog you have got. A club that thinks it will go up, so no need to actually build a team from the foundations - can always do that when we get promoted. Not been a successful philosophy really.

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