I reviewed Kim Barker’s darkly funny, really upsetting book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan over at the AfPak Channel.
That’s not to complain of Barker’s attempts to humanize herself. Having been a very brief witness to the expat scene in Kabul — a kaleidoscopic bacchanalia of excess and debauchery — the need for catharsis from being a participant for so long is obvious. It is only at the end of her tale, when Pakistan’s frightening power politics has frightened her more than the Taliban’s IEDs ever did, when her unemployment finally prompted her to reconsider her choices and her options, and her own self awareness pokes through the haze of nihilism so many foreign correspondents develop, that Barker seeks solace in reality.
But that’s probably the point anyway. Barker is not writing about Afghanistan, but about the disconnected, decadent, exploitative foreigners who write about Afghanistan. In this, her book is a probing — and uncomfortably hilarious — glimpse inside the universe so many of our foreign correspondents inhabit. It is a universe where Afghanistan is little more than Kabul with occasional field trips elsewhere; where Pakistan is boring Islamabad punctuated by bombs in other cities; where it’s normal to live in hotels and attend fabulous parties at mansions where all the locals speak English and drink wine. For exposing this world for the hollow fraud it is, Barker deserves enormous praise.
Go, read and comment away!