24 June 2012

Book Review: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby

An edited version of this article was first published as Book Review: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby on Blogcritics.org.

So you don't like your current day job as a businessman in the fashion industry. What do you do? You call up a friend and ask him to join you on a mountain-climbing trip to Afghanistan! Does that sound crazy? For Eric Newby, not so much!

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is Eric Newby's wonderful tale of amateur mountaineering. Having had no mountain-climbing experience before, he recounts his adventures from the time he was still a fashion industry salesman, to his four-day mountain-climbing training trip in Wales, to the actual trip in Afghanistan, which took a full month. He vividly recounts their adventures with driving across Europe and Iran, their mishaps with the nomads, and the pains with climbing a glacier in the Hindu Kush, both physical and mental. As I am a big fan of hiking and trekking, as well as having a dream of mountaineering one day, this book served as background reading for me. Add to that the fact that Afghanistan is still one of the least visited countries on earth.

Plotwise, A Short Walk is not complicated: it simply moves forward, chronicling their adventures. Hence, the plot line isn't the strong point of this book. After all, one doesn't expect non-fiction travel writing to be non-linear or cyclical. What I admire from this book is the content. Things are told in a vivid yet comical style, that sometimes, I find myself reading this book and laughing just by myself. The author surely still sees humor in a daunting task such as mountain-climbing.

One aspect of the book I did not like was the conclusion. I felt like the author prematurely ended the narrative. The narrative started in England, where the author is from. However, the narrative didn't end back in England. Hence, in the back of my head, I am still asking, "Did they reach England back safe and sound?" Of course, they must have. After all, this book is published. However, it still gives the feeling that the narrative prematurely ended, when they were still in Afghanistan. Sure, they got down from the mountains and into the safety of flat land, but still, it felt like the story wasn't completed, and he just ran out of pages.

I also did not like the Eurocentric approach. Sure, this was set in the 1950s, with a whole half century between the current period. However, I still felt uncomfortable reading narratives where there are two European men, acting like they owned the whole place, with a very slim regard for the native inhabitants of the area they were visiting. The author might be a good traveler, but he would make a very bad anthropologist.

Overall, I find myself not hating the book, but not liking it either. It was a good read, if I wanted to know more about an area of the world that I currently have no access to. For that reason, I liked it. But outside of that perspective, this book does not sit well with my mind. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Austrian Furniture, from my Cathedral of Learning Series)

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