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3 Cups of Tea, The Confluence Book Club Selection

Riverdaughter wrote a lovely piece, “Saturday: A little thing for the girls,” about a group of Afghani girls who were attacked on their way to school:

The principal of the school, Qaderi, has been partially successful in getting the 1500 female students to return to class by promising them transportation and security. So far, the students have returned but the buses and protection haven’t materialized and Qaderi is getting worried.

The Bushies made Afghanistan promises they did not intend to keep. Like many other projects the Bushies took up, they did a half assed job and left the locals fend for themselves. The world is full of hurts and injustices and the United States is just now starting to feel what that is going to be like with the deepening recession. But we are incredibly lucky that if an American girl wants to attend school. even if that school eventually ignores her and gives her a substandard education compared to boys, she has the means to get to its stingy-assed doors in one piece.

Sexism costs. In Afghanistan, it has been very costly as the years of the Taliban has reduced half of the population to a state of illiteracy. If we ever hope to have a stable, prosperous Afghanistan, where reason and education trump superstition and anachronistic tradition, it will require a literate population and the education of girls is critical to this goal.

Her post reminded me of something I’d heard about the book, 3 Cups of Tea and I thought it might be nice to build on the theme by reading the book as one of our book club selections.  I should have known better than to commit to a book I hadn’t read myself. . .

The first disappointment was that Mortenson didn’t write it (unless it’s “as told by”) there’s a co-author and the “voice” is his. The book reads as if the two guys had a series of conversations that were all transcribed (maybe in shorthand) on 3×5 cards. And then the 3×5 cards were written-up into a book. It’s not that those bits-of-stories are boring – it’s that they come out of nowhere and hang there by themselves. Here’s an example:

Mortenson had been invited to dozens of weddings since he’d first arrived in Pakistan. The details of Balti nuptials varied from village to village, but the central feature of each ceremony he’d witnessed remained much the same – the anguish of the bride at leaving her family forever.

“Usually at a wedding, there’s a solemn point when you’ll see the bride and her mother clinging to each other, crying,” Mortenson says. “The groom’s father piles up sacks of flour and bags of sugar, and promises of goats and rams, while the bride’s father folds his arms and turns his back, demanding more. When he considers the price fair, he turns around and nods. Then all hell breaks loose. I’ve seen men in the groom’s family literally trying to pry the bride and her mother apart with all their strength, while the women scream and wail. If a bride leaves an isolated village like Korphe, she knows she may never see her family again.”

The next morning, Mortenson found a precious boiled egg on his plate, next to his usual breakfast of chapatti and lassi. ….

In the sample above we jump from the violent emotions of the Balti wedding to a change in the routine of Mortenson’s breakfast.  I don’t know about you but, I couldn’t care less about Mortenson’s breakfast.  I want to know more about those weddings — more about the parents who sell their daughters for live stock.   And what Mortenson thinks about that.  Filtering the stories through the voice of co-author David Oliver Relin strips the story of all passion  — and therefore interest.

Well, that sample was on page 141 and it’s the first sign that Mortenson had any sort of social life during his visits. And it’s the first time since the opening chapters (describing his failed attempt to climb to the K2 summit) that the story came alive. The rest of the time it’s like reading something published by Reader’s Digest.

How did this book become a best seller?

Don’t get me wrong — my expectations of a best seller aren’t that high.  I’m not confusing the success of a book with the quality of that book. I stuck with The Thorn Birds even though it was clearly just a rough draft.  I flew through Jurassic Park even though there were virtually no human characters of note.  I even slogged through The Da Vinci Code, just to prove I could do it. But, I’m stuck on page 141 of this one thinking — I just don’t care about this book.

And that’s a real let down.  Because I think that somewhere in that stack of 3×5 cards there was a good story.