The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker



Three stars, read in June 2016.

(If you look for this book now, you’ll probably find it first under the movie title, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. They republished it when the movie came out, but you can still find it with the original title if you’re picky, like me, and ask. I got mine at Barnes and Noble.)

I decided to read this after seeing the movie. I hadn’t wanted to see it, but ended up surprised by how much I liked it, and that always makes me want to read the book.

I read with my usual uncertainty for something like this, sure it would be problematic, but also aware that the author’s a woman, which guarantees she’ll be critiqued more harshly than a man would be for writing the same things. Finding the balance between those things is difficult, particularly because I know so little about Afghanistan and Pakistan in the first place.

With all that in mind, only a couple things really stood out to me about her behavior. She grew up middle class in Montana, so I found it perplexing when she described giving her bank card and PIN number to her driver out of “laziness,” and him following behind her picking up the crumpled money or “occasionally the forgotten passport” she apparently didn’t notice she was dropping. That’s not a very middle class attitude, even when your employer is paying for things. She also writes about how badly she treated Farouq, her fixer, toward the end—someone who’d been a close friend for the first few years they worked together, but whom she ended up treating like an employee.

I guess the whole point is that she wasn’t engaging in very healthy behaviors while she was there; that’s why she calls it “Kabul High,” a phrase I hated because it sounds really condescending, but she’s using it to talk about all the foreign correspondents, right, not Afghans? It was hard to tell sometimes.

Anyway, I liked the book; I wouldn’t have felt the need to buy it after reading, but I’d already bought it because none of my libraries had it, and I feel okay about that. One of the rare cases in which I actually prefer the movie, because hey, that way I get to watch Martin Freeman, Tina Fey, and Alfred Molina.

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