Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan - The Taliban Shuffle

By Kim Barker

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marie lay
Excellent and fun read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
magdelene
Informative, funny, and passionate
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nick martin
Great read!
Strong Women Stay Young :: Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year :: Staying Strong: A Journal :: Spirited Away (The Godmothers) :: Arianna's Choice (Children of Angels Book 1) - Immortal Reborn
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
easwar chandran
ready to see the movie....
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
amanda norwood
I enjoyed TTS but it left me wanting. There was good insight into the war but not enough -- I got a lot of the same info reading the news. A lot of insight into the life of a reporter but not enough-- sometimes she didn't seem to be doing a good job and seemed lazy and even simple. The relationships seemed superficial -- cuz maybe they were. The movie was better I think.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
steve stepp
Barker wrote it in such a way that made me feel like I knew the difficult issues she dealt with and how that will have left a lasting impression on her life. She also shows how being bogged down in nation building in a place with historic divisions is too complex when resources are limited and the opponents know they just have to wait it out.
We should commit to 40 years, or get out immediately. I only wish she would re-publish an unabridged version as I believe we only touched the surface of her experiences.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kourtney
Great read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aditya gupta
Loved it
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jennie bologna
A great read that shows the absurdity of U.S. efforts to "nation build" these tribal societies. Not only does the memoir reveal that these efforts are futile, but it clearly shows that the peoples of these lands view us more as invaders that saviors. Kim Barker has a very dry sense of humor that adds to her very readable prose. It's a must read for anyone who thinks we need to be more involved in the Middle East or Asia.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chasevanmol
Ms. Barker's poignant recounting of her years in Afghanistan and Pakistan recall the words of Charlie Chaplin, "Smile - though your heart is aching". She gives vivid descriptions of the chaos and uncertainty entrenched in this region and the often ludicrous efforts of the West to `fix' the problems. It's clear her experiences led her to examine her own life with great clarity and the warmth she holds for the Afghan people shines through. You can almost see the tears in her eyes, the lump in her throat as she pulls back the curtain on this fragile, fractured region of the world.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
maribeth gangloff
Read this one for book club, otherwise would never have purchased. While informative, the book seemed frenetic and over indulgent at times. Can't say I'm better off having read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kpmilliner
I've read several books about Afghanistan and Pakistan as a means of understanding Asylum Seerkers. I found Kims book fascinating and with a very different focus, perhaps because she is such a good journalist and because she is a woman, writing about more intense concerns compared to Coffee Shop and Hairdresser female biographies. Kim has such sharp observations, her wit and cynicism brought a reality to my naive western viewpoint that helped clarify and laugh as it informed. I loved her down to earth approach and hope she goes on to write more books and articles for us who prefer her indepth writing rather than a quick newspaper bi line.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rolando
Kim Barker's experience as a reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan, written in The Taliban Shuffle, is a creatively written perspective of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not a report from the battlefield or another read on incomprehensible policy. This is a read about how a reporter, finding herself thrown into the chaos of war, changes her life. Kim's ability to make light of herself, but annotate the serious topic of war and its effects on the culture, is genius and informative!! Witty, well-written, and full of emotion, The Taliban Shuffle is a significant must read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ekadams
I'm thinking the movie is not like the book. the store compels me to add twenty words in order to make an entry.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kimby16
Very informative. Too bad she couldn't get closer to the Taliban or the locals, but she seemed fearless in a very dangerous environment. Truly a person who enjoys adventure. So glad she shared her experiences with her readers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
martina reilly
Excellent story by the author. Will look for her other works.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
frankie
just an OK read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jayna
Highly recommend this book for whoever wants a refreshing look into the life of a foreign correspondent in the AfPak region. Kim Barker gives a personal insight you won't find in other books.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
stas nagy
Hard to follow. Just couldn't finish it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
thulasi ram
I can't recommend this book highly enough. A perfect balance of emotional subjectivity vs acute observation. It makes me wish I was in America to read Ms Barker's news reports from the region. A great read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
liv lansdale
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ms. Barker's perspective on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is a gifted writer and story teller. Anyone who reads this book will come away more educated on the situation in this part of the world than from any other media outlet. Great Job Kim!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
russel
DID NOT HOLD MY INTEREST
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ang schu
Enjoyed reading this book. Discovered that Kim Barker was a friend from Billings, MT in the early 80's. So besides learning of Kim's successes this book was entertaining as well as informative. I learned what life as a journalist was like from a more personal view point and my limited knowledge of Afghanistan and Pakistan was enlightened. Have read this book is going to be made into a screenplay which says something as to the quality and truthfulness of this piece of work.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
joel spencer
Fantastic!!!!!!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
aaron boyd
Hope the movie was better. Unable to tell the characters apart....much less the tribal situation in Pakistan/Afghanistan/India..... About all I learned is that the situation was, is, and no doubt will remain a morass. This book doesn't help explain any of it. A disappointment.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
slanger
I'm sorry I purchased this for my Kindle. Boring laced with Ms Barker's sophomoric "adventures" with various boyfriends which seemed to be more important to her than performing her job with the Chicago Tribune while in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Sprinkled with interviews with a couple of Pakistan's leaders which appeared to go nowhere. I am only half way through the book and am trying to force myself to at least try and finish it. Not sure why.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
colie
I learned more about the war in Afghanistan from this book than I have from all the news coverage over the last decade.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
paula hatch
I am amazed you survived these trips in Afghanistan and Pakistan being an American woman. You did not know any of the language but you still persevered and you met so many kind people along the way who kept you safe. You really had a Guardian Angel watching over you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
chris watschke
At times I felt it was a little hard to follow but otherwise the book.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tamika joy
not as good as the movie
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
tad richards
Poorly written couldn't finish it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jaimee henry
Brilliant.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
jamie baker
Young, un-married and childless, when Kim Barker hears that the newspaper where she works is looking for a corespondent in South Asia, she jumps at the chance. This first foray into the turmoil that is Pakistan, Afghanistan and India will change her perspective as well as the course of her life. As she meets with warlords and freedom fighters, Jihadists and terrorists, heads of state and soldiers from the upper echelons of the US Army, Kim has to sort the fact from the fiction and keep her game face on even as the bullets, literally sometimes, ricochet around her. Watching history in the making is not for the faint of heart.

I appreciate this story for what it is - a unique, female perspective on war-zone reporting. There are some fascinating stories and I really feel like I have a better understanding of this conflict now. A good portion of this book is background information, political context and discussions of the conundrum of this entire area, some of it interested me and sometimes it got a bit dull. The other portion of this book was primarily her social life and experiences with the people and the culture, both for an article and not. This was sometimes totally entertaining and really delved into how different people live and make choices in that part of the world. Other times, it felt like high school. Really. She sees that comparison herself, calling it Kabul High. I started having less sympathy for her the more she fed into that "anything goes I'm a foreign reporter" atmosphere, even as she admitted that it was hurting relations between locals and everyone else. It was hard for me to appreciate how good she was at her job when she's acting like a sorority girl on her off-hours.

Am I glad I read it? Yes. Even as it made me feel so uncomfortable about how little I knew of the conflict and so disappointed in how my country and other countries tried to handle the massive problems that faced them, it was an interesting enough read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
december
My dream job is to be a Middle Eastern correspondent so my Dad gave me this book for my birthday.

This is a memoir of Kim Barker and her time as the South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. It's part black comedy, part examination of terrorism, and all heart. Barker tells the story of her growth as a correspondent, her love affair with the region, and her struggles to remain human in a war zone.

The way she explains the complexities the region faces is extraordinary. She shows a deft understanding of the intricacies of the political and social situation and how it has remained a mess for so long, while simultaneously not playing a blame game. While simultaneously pointing out the dark underbelly of the culture, she also hold the people in high regard. She takes the time to go back and explain some of the necessary history without overloading the reader, but you still come away with a good understanding of what is contributing to the chaos instead of just a blow by blow of the destruction.

Some negative reviewers complain about her discussions of the social life, but I think that shows what it really was like to live and work there. It shows how the foreign community chose to stay sane in a crazy world. This made me take a long hard look at my goals to work overseas, both from a personal standpoint and a monetary one.

The end of the book tells the tale of shrinking budgets and fewer jobs. Most of the work Barker did is now being completed by freelancers fighting to get by. It forecasts dark times ahead for journalists both at home and overseas. I hope we can find a way to keep journalism going and fund the important work that goes on all around the world.

Awesome and thought provoking read.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
liz countryman
" I had to stop resisting Pakistan's pull, because Afghanistan and Pakistan fed into each other, and I needed to understand how."

After seeing the movie I figured I had to check out the book.

It's an interesting story about a woman finding herself in a life that she least expected. I appreciated that Kim Barker's writing was something even I could relate to and covered a fast swath of policy and anecdotes.

I think my biggest issue with the book is to me it read less about Afghanistan or Pakistan as I was expecting and was more about Barker's personal journey. From the introduction where we hear about her tangle with the adrenaline junkie life to the end where she picks herself back up the resounding theme that carries this story is the author herself. There are a few times Barker goes into talking about the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan - not just policy wise but her experience and her perception of how different life was and I would have liked to read more of that. Her thoughts on how American troops were being used and how her network's treatment of her affected the people she worked with in Afghanistan is really what appealed to me in this book.

It's an interesting read that offers a unique perspective of a journalist looking at both her assignment and her life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
leslie jackson
I found out about this book just as the movie was coming out in 2016, I listened to an interview on WBEZ World View's podcast in early 2016 where she described some of the events in the book (published 2011) and what it is like to try and readjust to life in the States after her journey. I am glad to have found the book but doubt I will see the movie.

The author worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2004-2009. Much of the book is about the relationships and their inevitable awkwardness, particularly the ones one builds as an expat who lives in a foreign culture while tied to their home culture. Being an "unaccompanied woman" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is hazardous duty; the same qualities that allowed her flexibility to get the difficult assignments--single, childless--mean she will endlessly be asked about her marital status. There's also a loneliness that comes from covering traumatic events in those cultures, like terrorist attacks, that most back home could never understand. She is likely PTSD, witnessed a lifetime of bad things in her five years, and like many expats finds comfort in the expat community where smuggling in alcohol and "hooking up" with each other is how one copes. Some over there are adrenaline junkies, struggle with depression, have multiple identities, etc.

Barker worked Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Chicago Tribune for several years. She has to deal with the shrinking budget of newspapers as they wither from internet competition as well as compete for news-worthiness in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq. "There are no 'Green Zones' in Kabul," there is no hiding from the risk or culture. Barker writes of the checkpoints in Afghanistan where women guards basically get to molest other women. Probably the greatest scandal from the book is that now-Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif tried to become her "friend" (wink) after months of establishing a more formal relationship with her, including offering her a job, helping her get interviews, trying to arrange romantic relationships for her with others, buying her gifts, etc. Barker turns him down. It's an example of the problem of relying on various nationals' hospitality and not knowing whether it's hospitality or with some sort of strings attached. In some cases, Barker knows she's being used or what the motive is, but she needs the story and the connections that it will open for her.

Another official who Barker had an awkward relationship with was Abdul Sabet, who Hamid Karzai had appointed Attorney General. Sabet was supposedly rooting out corruption but was corrupt himself. He made enemies on all sides. Barker is not sure what to think about him, but at one point he apparently begins stalking her.

Barker relies on her interpreter, Farouq, for much of the book; apparently they are still friends. He gets her into places and helps her out; but relationships with nationals you pay to help you can be awkward for both sides. If she has to cut his pay, for example, the friendship gets threatened.

Barker is able to have hidden and not-so-hidden romantic relationships with Westerners; one of whom goes nuts. Her travels and their travels make relationships difficult. Like several books on my 2016 list, relationships dealing with mysteries and secrecy generally are frought with tension and don't end well. One could see how scenes where Barker gets to fire guns while out in the wilderness with warlords would make for a good movie.

But the book is also a unique window into how badly the war in Afghanistan was going, how incompetent and dangerous the work really was, and how low morale was among troops. Eight years into the war, there was no single agency coordinating the military and civilian efforts. May, 2006 saw the beginning of a downward spiral in the country, roughly the same time as the insurgency was at its peak in Iraq as well. Provincial elders were losing ground to the Taliban and frustrated with the Americans. Everyone knows that Pakistan's ISI is complicit with the Taliban, but this does not change anything. Barker witnesses the poorly-named Operation Mountain Thrust in the summer of 2006, trying to oust Taliban from the south of Afghanistan. The US have an outpost that is turned over to the Brits, abandoned, and then the Taliban move in and kill all the local chieftans who had agreed to a truce with the NATO troops. Troops with extended or repeated rotations because of stop-loss puts an enormous strain on the morale of US troops as well. There are constant problems of training Afghan police, many of whom are illiterate and their lives are in danger. There are ethnic tensions among all the players in Afghanistan. The struggle is truly reminiscent of everything I've seen and read about Vietnam, and confirms much of what I've read in books like Left of Boom (3.5 stars) and Ahmed Rashid's Descent Into Chaos (3.5 stars). The author suggests that the only solution would take a long-term commit from the entire world that does not appear to be forthcoming.

Barker witnesses the Afghan elections, and the comical difficulty of having 390 candidates on a ballot-- too many for them all to have symbols, and people might vote based on the symbol chosen. Warlords, of course, are included on the ballot, along with any variety of characters.

There are some breaks in the action as Barker returns home to the US on leave, to Indiana, Chicago, and elsewhere. Vacations are cut short as she's always on call, needing to go anywhere in Central or South Asia on a moment's notice. Amazingly, she's highly allergic to dust and is debilitated eight times a year in Afghanistan with a sinus infection, eventually having surgery in the US. There are definite bright spots. Besides favor with Nawaz Sharif, President Obama apparently helps her get a much-covereted interview with Hamid Karzai.

Barker fell "in love" with Pakistan in her time there. She writes of how women were treated better in Pakistan, she did not have to go through the molestation of checkpoints there. Maybe the hardest part for her was the coverage of Benazir Bhutto's campaign. There is a danger and the inevitable feeling that an assassination will occur; Barker is on the scene when it does. She is there to write the story just steps away from the bloody aftermath. We take the mental health of foreign correspondents for granted. Even her going away party coincided with a terrorist attack in which she received a concussion. Barker never fully unpacks all of this for the reader, but she tells of the difficulty returning to the US to write about more mundane topics and deal with US domestic life. Having lived a few years overseas myself, I can empathize, but not to the depth she experienced. She now writes for the NY Times, but the WBEZ interview I heard suggested she may end up overseas again one day.

I enjoyed this book and the insights into Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the life of a rare female journalist there. The reader may find some parts of her personal life uninteresting, or perhaps like the personal parts but find the war uninteresting. 4 stars.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
prajacta
Hmmm, how to review this book...I spent a fair amount of time in the region- Afghanistan, Pakistan, India...altogether about 5 intense years there. I was there during the events of 9-11 in America. This does not make me an "expert" in anything- least of all how to judge Kim Barker's experiences against my own. She does capture some things with great humor, but as I read on, the humor seemed almost "forced" as though, if given the choice how she would express certain people or events, she always chose superficial humor over anything deeper or more challenging. I think she wrote this with a definite eye towards a film in her future, and indeed she succeeded. I feel a tad saddened that she came away with nothing deeper than this comedy..although I am sure she is capable of greater and more profound ideas and writing. It just isn't in these pages. I wish her all the best and expect she will probably write again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
novani iie nugrahani
I read this book after hugely enjoying the film.

The film is a significantly bastardised account of about 10% of the book. It is a good film though, and has the spirit of the book, if few of the facts.

Unlike the film, the book is not just about Afghanistan. Barker was the Head of the South Asian Bureau for the Chicago Tribune until 2009 when the Tribune, having been taken over, decided to give up proper news reporting along with almost every other newspaper in the west and substitute celebrity drivel for it.

I have read a lot of books about Afghanistan, Pakistan and surrounding regions, some written by journalists, others by historians, soldiers and politicians.

I would say for an overview of what has been going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last twenty years or so, this is the one I would put in the hands of someone who wanted to know.

There is quite a lot of personal material in this book. Barker got to meet and sustain friendships with a remarkable number of high level people during her five years in the region, and did so by being herself, and hanging out and mixing the personal with the political.

She struggles to get objectivity about the role of the US in Asia, but then she’s American, and she’s honest about her views.

Reminds me a bit of Craig Murray’s ‘Murder in Samarquand’, which also mixes the personal and the political, and which is also written by a brave and resourceful person.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
atta verin
I got this book after seeing the movie, which I also loved. A recovering adrenaline junkie myself (my story was a little safer - I escaped to a ski town for 15 years), I really related to all the issues Ms. Barker was going through. She spoke to many of the dilemas facing modern women now that we can explore the worlds and lifestyles that men have had access to for years. She honestly exposes what it's like for a woman to take risks into the big world out there. I loved the humor, the personal stories about relationships and also gained admiration for her intelligence and courage. I also enjoyed learning so much about another culture and the politics. Overall, found it smart, witty and educational. And an interesting expose on being a woman today in dfferent cultures.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
arun andhavarapu
More than anything else I've read, Barkers experience explains fully what any individual or nation faces entering into Afghanistan or Pakistan. Be it government, business, family, language, manners, entertainment, religion, marriage, sex or war, it always, always boils down to tribes. This is a region with no sense of itself, just tribes, living in a chosen spot. Caught in an ancient tradition of loyalties and ties to war lords, the people turn mercurially in whatever direction serves the family first and the tribe second. The end result is an vicious circle in which the concept of nation never takes root. You can't decide if we should just put a fence around it and preserve the anthropological scene, or let greater forces sweep it away. It is tragic and heroic all at once.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
husen
Ms. Barker has a wicked sense of humor that spills over the pages of this book, but in the end it's a mediocre book that does not do her justice as a regional bureau chief for South Asia for the Chicago Tribune. The tone of the story is conversational, like you'd met Ms. Barker at a party and she was telling you about her years as a foreign correspondent. She talks about the Taliban, suicide bombers, differences between terror events in Afghanistan and India, being embedded with the infantry in Afghanistan, the vagueness of the War on Terror, her clothing and makeup situation, her boyfriends and personal life, and all the parties she attended in Kabul. It's a pretty good overview of someone's life for a few years, but it's not what I came to this book for, and ultimately I was disappointed.

What I came to this book to get was a view of the war on terror, and what's here is fragmentary and viewed through a lens so personal that the War on Terror seemed like background noise. This may be true to Ms. Barker's experience, but I was hoping for hard information from a journalist who had been in the trenches, and what's here just doesn't seem like hard news but more fluff and nonsense. It's mildly amusing that major political figures in Pakistan were hitting on Ms. Barker, but it would have been more informative to hear their political views and their vision of relations with the U.S. in the War on Terror. What's here is the life of a journalist, as a memoir, where the War on Terror is a sideshow. If you want a good idea what it's like to be a foreign correspondent in a war-torn region, this book can tell you in spades. If you want a hard view of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan you may be disappointed. There are nuggets here but no real gems.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ashlyn
The Taliban Shuffle, despite its promise to be "laugh-out-loud funny," is not a laugh riot, thank goodness. I had mixed feelings about the flip title and promise of unrestrained mirth. It's about a war, after all. But it's unlikely I would have read a sobering look at the state of the endless and seemingly pointless war.

P.J. O'Rourke writes in a blurb on the cover that hellholes like Afghanistan and Pakistan are "kind of fun." Nonsense. The Westerners who find themselves there, as reporters or aid workers or contractors, (but not soldiers - there doesn't seem to be much hobnobbing between military and civilian) take every opportunity to relieve the stress of being in a war zone by boozing, partying, hooking up, and doing drugs. It's the kind of desperate fun that comes with the added thrill of knowing you could be bombed, shot, or kidnapped without warning.

While The Taliban Shuffle explains a lot about the war in Afghanistan and the politics in Pakistan, it's more revealing about what it's like to be a war correspondent. Kim Barker writes a fascinating account of her evolution from inexperienced reporter to intrepid journeyman correspondent to jaded journalist. Never pompous or self-important, Barker is sometimes painfully honest about her destructive relationships and becoming an adrenaline junkie. Even when her newspaper shut down the South Asia Bureau and reassigned her to a domestic beat, she soon quit and flew back, because she was addicted to Afghanistan.

I haven't yet come across a book about the war in Afghanistan that is as enlightening as Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone was about the war in Iraq. But The Taliban Shuffle fills a different gap by being an authentic and unrestrained account of the lives of war correspondents.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marigold
Even if P.J. O'Rourke hadn't been among those offering "advanced praise" for "The Taliban Shuffle", I would be invoking his name in this review. Kim Barker's chronicle of her time as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan is funny, insightful, ironic and informative. She views the many challenges in this region through an ironic lens while offering detailed insight into the challenges facing the natives *and* the foreigners attempting to influence the outcomes in Afghanistan.

In parallel, she presents a personal narrative of the addictive nature of life in a hostile environment (and especially where the hostility is amplified by language and gender barriers).

Barker's travels took her to some of Afghanistan's toughest neighborhoods without previous expertise before her arrival. She clearly gets the complexities of the ethnic and tribal relationships that dominate life there, and understands too the often absurd outcomes from multinational aid and military organizations.

Her discussions of these offer an accessible and readable recent history of events if Afghanistan. While this doesn't reduce the complexity of trying to understand the region, it does make it more palatable (and I was reminded very much of P.J. O'Rourke's 1990's parsing of the ethnic layout in the Balkans).

Good news coming out of Pakistan or Afghanistan may be hard to come by...but this book at least delivers the news with wit and humor.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
regalreisender
This book is not what I expected after watching the movie based on it. I was expecting more of the journalist point of view on issues of covering a war in another country. There is some of that, but it seems to be more lessons on the history of Afghanistan & Pakistan so far, and some insight on how they treat women there. It's so boring I'm having trouble reading it, but I keep plowing through a little at a time hoping for more interesting personal anecdotes & thoughts on why she chose to do that work, how she coped, etc.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
islam elkhateb
Why Tina Fey who produced & starred in the film version of this autobiography, decided to call the movie WHISKEY, TANGO, FOX (which is NOT mentioned in the book & which 99% of the American public has no clue as to what the expression means), I don't understand because this is a compelling, interesting story written by a complex, very bright, brave woman. Why not call the movie THE TALIBAN SHUFFLE, so the public will understand what the book is about & go see the movie! Kim Barker is a struggling, inexperienced foreign correspondent (at the beginning of the book) & to try to make a career for herself she goes to freelance report in AFGHANISTAN around the time W. Bush pulled most of the troops out & sent them to Iraq. This story is about the 4 YEARS she spent living in Kabul (NOT in the Green Zone); her friendship with her Afghani driver/fixer/translator, having to contend with the Medieval laws enforced against women (she even have to wear a burka at times), her friendships with the other journalists, photo journalists & their CRAZY parties (held in western-only restaurants or houses) where they drink like fish, sing, dance into the next day... it's the only way they can blow off steam. Kim ACTUALLY EMBEDS with US troops & goes out on patrol with all male platoons. Eventually, Kim moves to Pakistan, because that is where the Taliban are... Throughout this fascinating book, she explains the history, the tribal system & why borders have no meaning & the fact that the Pashtuns & Daris are loyal to their OWN tribes, regardless of what country they live in. In Pakistan, Kim quickly learns about the ISS (Pakistani secret police) who are in-cahoots with the Taliban, who follow her, spy on her & frighten her. Yet, being a big (very tall & not skinny) woman who doesn't take crap from anyone, Kim manages to befriend another driver/fixer/translator, make more friends with the ex-pat journalist, sometimes they live in a large house together or their mad parties take place in western only places. In Pakistan, Kim is constantly sexually assaulted by men on the street... The manner in which she deals with being groped is FANTASTIC! She's treated like a whore, no matter how covered up she is. It's a great story. Kim Barker was working for the Chicago Tribune at the time, now she works for the NY TIMES. If you want to know what life is really like in these nations for a women & the history of how they came to be ruled by corrupt dictators, corrupt military dictators & a breeding ground for terrorists, read this compelling book. It's funny at times, but the movie is far more comedic. Kim Barker said that the cocaine parties in the movie didn't happen, she said it was getting drunk & singing & dancing. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is military speak for WTF.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jarrett
I purchased this book because of the high remarks everyone made about. To say the least, it was a let down. If you are interested a seeming like someone who is interested in international relations and/or the war in Afghanistan, then this book is for you. By claiming to be a "humorous" account of life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barker has decided that it is ok to provide a hallow and naive account of the numerous issues plaguing these two very complex states. Moreover, her "wry wit" as the Chicago Tribune (her employer) described it, isn't enough to make up for the lack of intelligence and understanding these geopolitical issues need. The lack of discussion on these issues aside, what is most frustrating is how she nonchalantly mentions how Afghanis are treated basically like second class citizens because they are barred from certain establishments in Kabul that are just meant for foreigners. Even focusing on that singular injustice would have made this book worth writing. But instead, there is more information her love life. Her lack of cultural sensitivity and overly detailed accounts of her outfits made this book seem like a long article in Cosmo, if Cosmo wanted to create a travel section. If you're truly interested in finding a great read on Afghanistan and specifically the corruption that occurs there, then check out Sarah Chayes book "Thieves of State". There you have someone who SPEAKS about Afghanistan and not just gives you elaborate accounts of drunken party nights spent in some of Kabul's finest brothels.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
alexandra saldivar
Kim Barker comes from a hippie family in Montana, she had little worldly experience or wealth, her parents grounded her for letting the marijuana plants die, and her idea of going "overseas" was the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Hoping to escape her upbringing she began reporting for local papers, learning the craft of writing, and then landed a job at the Chicago Tribune around 9/11. Being young and single (expendable) she was given an overseas posting to Afghanistan, at the time the backwater to Iraq's headline news. She stayed for years, learning about the country and having adventures along the way. This breezy memoir is her story.

The memoir is ok but not central in the war literature, there's not the depth of personal and political insight you see in the better literary memoirs. It's funny, she is witty. Those looking for a very personal perspective will enjoy it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jeff richey
The author of this book spent years reporting between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but this book is more a personal memoir than anything much to do with the wars. She felt at home in Afghanistan, and, indeed it doesn't seem to have been all that dangerous at the time. I learned that there were places where alcohol was readily available, and there were quite a few parties in both countries. I learned what the author and her friends wore to these parties, too. This type of info is interspersed with stories of her "fixer", her driver, and several kind of funny relationships with politicians. I also learned that back then a reporter could live a fairly normal life, or at least Kim Barker and her friends did.

Barker's writing style is engaging, and will keep you turning the pages (but won't keep you up all night). When I finished the book I couldn't help but think that something was missing, though. I think maybe the author should have added some of her news stories to the book, or delved a little deeper in the war part of the story. Maybe she was consciously trying to keep it light, or keep it funny, but it really wasn't funny, except for a few of the politicians personalities. It's a decent book, but I think it could have been much better.

There's a great book out there by a female correspondent: Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War which I think everyone should read. I understand that that wasn't the book Ms. Barker set out to write, and her book is good, but could have been excellent. Recommended for people who like their war stories on the light side.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
micah
I liked The Taliban Shuffle, but not for the reasons you might expect. While I am a fan of political satirists and humorist observers of our woebegone lives, it wasn't just the linkages to PJ O'Rourke that were attractive in this novel. No, there was enough "real world" reporting of the facts on the ground, and the small, almost unnoticed or unreported actions and incidents that were interesting as well. Like the fact that a national political leader in Pakistan made a pass at our author. I wonder if that ever happened to PJ O'Rourke.

Part travelogue, part spy novel, part reporting and all about a person who has gotten wayyyy too close to her material, the Taliban Shuffle mainly proves that while Afghanistan and Pakistan may be important to our national interests, we really don't have a clue about what makes them tick. To be sure, it doesn't appear many of the different factions in those respective countries have much of a clue about what makes their compatriots tick, either, so we've got that going for us. They'll all be against us until we leave, at which time they'll all be against each other.

The book starts out as a tongue in cheek look at India, Pakistan and Afghanistan by someone who doesn't appear to have left the midwest until landing in New Delhi. The greenhorn American abroad is quickly brought up to speed, and perhaps suffers less because she has no preconceived notions about what should, or shouldn't exist, in these countries. In Afghanistan the women are covered and the men are strict and rigid. In Pakistan the women are somewhat less covered and the men are constantly groping her. Yet these two countries nominally share a religion and a conservative wave of Islam is sweeping over both. Mid-way through the book the author begins to lose herself in Afghanistan, its people, its beauty and its politics. Afghanistan, of all places, is her safe haven and chosen place of escape. Bordering on "Heart of Darkness" territory here.

The book enters the realm of the absurd in Pakistan, when the different political factions are fighting over the prime minister's role and Bhutto is killed. The author develops a co-dependent and somewhat unhealthy relationship with Nawaz Shariff, who is still a power broker in Pakistan, and is invited into the aforementioned relationship. I think finally the author had a catharsis and recognized that Afghanistan and Pakistan had become for her like a drug that allowed her to escape the troubles at home, including the dismantling of the foreign desk of the Chicago Tribune and her own inabilities to maintain a relationship.

This is a book to read to see the weird underbelly of what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It may make you weep to recognize just how dependent we are on some quite unsavory or perhaps unbalanced characters, given the importance of stability in South Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan make many countries look like havens of peace and stability. This is an eminently readable and sometimes very funny book, but what I'd like to see now is the author add a coda or perhaps a followup, now that she's left the region and works in the US. What did she learn from the experience and more importantly, with new perspectives, what does she think will happen?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
burke
The most important thing I learned from reading Barker's "Taliban Shuffle" is that Afghanistan IS the burial ground for Empires and Pakistan is the ultimate in "created" countries. Even before they defeated Alexander the Great when he attempted to cross-over from Persia, the Afghans have been fighting with each other. No slight is ever forgotten and civil war is their true "national game". If at anytime there is one ethnic group in charge, they will fracture over 'what end of the egg to open' just so they have someone to shoot at. This is not a country that is built to be anything but a playground for militants. They enjoy killing each other, just as they prefer to grow poppies then develop an agriculture that could feed their people. Though narcotics are against Islamic Law, the POBs have determined that it's OK to grow it and export it to 'infidels'.

Barker pulls no punches whether she's writing about the corruption of the Pakistani government, or the US military forces. Few politicians (and Obama should know better) have any understanding of the culture or society that we are fighting along-side or against. All the US wants to do is force a western style democracy on a 'medieval' culture and get out. Military commanders are still trying to use the same old 'vietnam' style ideas to fight a war in a country that doesn't want us there. Afghanistan is not a country as such, as neither is Somalia or DR Congo. All these countries are the conglomeration of tribes that have been forced to deal with each other because of western interference in the nineteenth century.

Barker's book is a study of the futility of trying to make a 'silk purse out of a pigs ears'. The US just keeps on trying to make other people over in our image, but strangely enough, people don't want or appreciate our help. All we do is create more corruption and make the elites of certain countries richer than they ever thought they would be. We have accomplished nothing in Afghanistan or the tribal areas of Pakistan except to make sure that companies like Haliburton will make lots of money and the military will continue to waste young lives using the antiquated 'ideas' of 'old soldiers'. Great read.

Zeb Kantrowitz
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hanson135
I really enjoyed "The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker. A sign of how much I enjoyed it is I am recommending it to people as much as possible.

Barker is a journalist. This is her view of Afghanistan & Pakistan during the last 8 years or so. She does some reporting of the situation but mostly Shuffle is just that, a 'shuffle' of personal stories. The kind that don't make the news but make for good stories that stick in your brain.

One of the most haunting isn't even about the conflict but when she relates that she is relaxing for a Christmas holiday. She, like myself, hasn't heard yet of the tsunami that hit in 2004. That little anecdote won me over because it showed how fast things move in her world.

What I appreciated most is that Barker relates truly funny stories but humor is always best when it is laced with a kind of truthful melancholy. there is something absurd in how she describes how men in Afghanistan are so used to fighting that even when they talk of a day when they won't be fighting, she's been around long enough among them that she, nor others, believe them.

That is how this book rolls. It is funny, absurd, realistic, non-judgmental, filled with friendships, observations of corrupt and corruptible, frustrations and small victories, but mostly about how an unlikely person grew to love what seems like an unlovable place.

It is definitely a keeper for me.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kate melnick
Ace journalist Kim Barker asks a "test question" of a top medical official in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2007:

"So...do you think any jews were killed in the World Trade Center?"
He looked at me. The switch in topic was dramatic.
"Well, i don't know," he said. "I don't think so."
I stood up. "I'm out of here, You've lost all credibility."
Shocked, he tried to explain himself.
"If Jews died, why don't they put it on the Internet? Why don't they name all the Jews who died on a website? Then I'd believe it."
"You want the Jews to make a list of the dead. Seriously, that's what you want?"
"Yes."
"Right after 9/11, I talked to the families of dozens of Jews who died. you're educated. You're a doctor." I turned to leave.
"Maybe you should put up a website," he said. "Maybe you should make a list."
I reached back and grabbed a cookie, eating it on the way out the door. The entire interview lasted ten minutes.

While Barker is by no means un-critical of US operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, she has fierce integrity and principles---I particularly appreciated her positive and honest coverage of the soldiers she was embedded with in Afghanistan. I also sympathized with her losing herself in the social scene of Kabul, celebrating the wild and woolly atmosphere of the expat scene until her Afghani journalist guide took her to task for partying. If you see the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, get pursued by a Pakistani former official who doesn't understand the meaning of journalistic objectivity, learn the etiquette of Pakistan (except for tolerating butt-pinching), and witness firsthand scenes that most of us can only imagine, you have to fight for your right to party. Especially when you've fallen in love with two of the most dangerous countries on earth. No word on Abbottabad, where bin Laden was hiding out, but Barker's writing on Pakistan should be required reading for all foreign policy officials and commentators who want to understand that country and its split personality.

I recommend reading the book just for Barker's vivid writing:

"By now we knew the regular beggars and their acts. The boy with flippers for arms. The girl who wore her blind brother's suit jacket and led him around by his one good arm. Egg Boy, an entrepreneur who sobbed daily next to broken eggs at various intersections, raking in egg money from concerned foreigners."

"At one dark brothel with bordello-red walls, a Chinese woman had dressed in a fur jacket, fishnet stockings, a white miniskirt, and white boots--a bit of overkill, considering the all-encompassign burqas that many Afghan women still wore."

While I've chosen the most sensationalist bit here, Barker is at her best when narrating her relationships with the natives, and musing about the geopolitcs as a cultural observer.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alex k rup
This is one person's chronicle of life as a newspaper reoprter in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Evidently, even today, war has its humorous moments.

The author was a total newbie, when, in 2004, she became the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune. She spent much of her time in Afghanistan, when the world's attention was focused on Iraq. Everyone knew that they were fighting the "other war," so they tended to relax. Everyone, that is, except the Taliban, who spent the time quietly regrouping. President Hamid Karzai has been called "The Myor of Kabul," because his influence extends only that far. According to Barker, even that description might be too generous.

Afghanistan is run by warlords, and is a place where your tribe or clan, and your language, is taken very seriously, especially if you find yourself in the "wrong" part of the country. Barker attends a training session of the Afghan National Police, the people who are supposed to take over after America leaves. Descriptions like "travesty" and "fiasco" come to mind. There is little, or no, coordination of aid, so the chances of aid getting to those who need it the most are tiny.

In Pakistan, the city of Islamabad is not just a sleepy, quiet city; one person described it as "twice as dead as Arlington National Cemetery." Barker is romantically pursued by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who offers to play matchmaker, and wants to be her "friend" (which has a very different meaning in Asia). Vacations in Europe or America are few and far between, and are usually cut short by some major happening in South Asia. For Barker, in both countries, there are a couple of attempts at romance, which don't end well. She meets a constantly changing group of journalistic colleagues, aid workers, military people and various kinds of adrenaline junkies.

After several years of American money, effort and lives, why are Afghanistan and Pakistan still so messed up (for lack of a better term)? This book does a fine job at giving the answer. This is not meant to be a sober political analysis of both countries, but one person's subjective chronicle. It is very much recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
dan brazelton
There is a lot of written literature available on the war being fought in Afghanistan. Literature in the form of books, essays and articles by prominent historians, journalists and other experts that are not only profound and insightful, but also transparent when painting a detailed humanistic view of the battles being fought and lives being lost. Aptly named, Kim Barker's new book is a shuffle - a shuffle of her own personal travails during her time as a South Asia bureau chief (from 2004-09) for the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

This book is refreshing and unique in a way that the tragedies unfolding in a war zone are often interwoven and told with the author's own personal struggles in life. This perspective, as unique as it may seem, takes the sting out of reading about a bloodied war zone but gets the meaning through in a more subtle fashion. Her writing comes alive with vivid (and often distressful) images of the war being fought and other political upheavals that continue to ravage Afghanistan and its neighbors. The chapters where she is meeting and covering political rallies of Pakistan's former prime minister are filled with irony and are downright amusing, while reading on Pakistan's dire economic status, its failure as a state to control home grown terrorism, its growing nuclear arsenal and blaming its neighbor for its own problems are scary and discomforting.

Since we are reading a personal account of the author's time spent covering events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are also introduced to the dilemmas war journalists constantly face when they have to make decisions that sometime cost the lives of others or scar their own lives. As much as this book is about coverage of the events in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it also a very deeply personal account of the author's life and her reflection on the choices she had to make while she was out there. This book is a light read and is by no means a substitute for works which are scholarly, objective and more thoroughly researched. But on the other hand if you want a quick refresher on the war on terror in Afghanistan, Kim Barker's 'The Taliban Shuffle' will not disappoint.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
paulatina myers
There are other reviews that cover this book much more beautifully than I can, so I will just add my two cents. First, I did not find this book amusing for the most part, despite what the book seems to promise. But I did find this book incredibly beautiful and I absolutely could not put this book down - my highest praise. I found myself thinking about this book long after I had read it. It is insightful and sorrowful and wonderful and should absolutely be read by anyone looking for insight into the Middle East and just what is going on in that area.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
leah gaye
"The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker, (2011), Doubleday, 303 pgs. Not 300 pages of Taliban interviews. The author interviewed only a handful of imprisoned Taliban hangers-on (p. 242); "with few Taliban contacts" (p. 95), infrequently she sought out Tabliban members in the hinterlands, but she admitted that she really didn't want to do it too frequently -- one of her male journalists was kidnapped while seeking an exclusive Taliban interview. The author sees well that a terrorist attack is happening, but doesn't quite fully understand why it is happening. The author saw the immediate aftermath whereby terrorists or Islamikazes killed 'infidels' (and innocent Muslim passersby as unfortunate `collateral damage'). However, I don't recall her asking: "Why are all of these suicide bombers Muslim?" One reviewer wrote that he found this book so interesting that "I couldn't put it down"; contrarily for me, as this book really didn't cover any new ground that others haven't already written about -- I found it hard to pick it back up after setting it down (all too frequently I bemoaned: "Will this book never end?"). The only thing really new here were her dating experiences; sad experiences in a sad region. But her dating experiences led to the best line in her book: "I was also trying not to date in Kabul as Afghanistan resembled Alaska if you were a woman - the odds were good but the goods were odd" (p. 123). Even though she may not have witnessed some terrorist attack, she nonetheless related a history of the incident - but I had the feeling that I was reading generic news information; her `first hand' experience was missing. Don't get me wrong, she witnessed as lot of mayhem, but it seemed like she was usually out of the area when the incident occurred, and she was sent in as a stringer to cover the story. I do laud her as a female journalist in putting her `boots on the ground' in a really unsafe region. As a western woman in a Muslim region it was difficult for her to develop `deep', meaningful, prying questions of Islamist leaders for their beliefs, not that she didn't try. It didn't help that she had to rely on local translators, as she didn't speak either Dari or Pashto, and thereby, she couldn't engage in more spontaneous questioning. She wrote: "To understand Pakistan, India was the key" (p. 150). No, you need to first understand Islam, so you can understand why prior to the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, a majority of the Muslims didn't want to coexist amongst Hindus inside India - as they realized they could never regain their former minority control over the Hindus. [To understand the Muslim superiority mentality one needs to read "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" by Robert Spencer.] Ms. Barker was Bambi in Baghlan.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
niall glynn
Kim Barker's Taliban Shuffle aspires to be a piece of war journalism that explains how badly Americans misunderstood Afghanistan and its people. However, the advance marketing for the book is misleading: it's by no means a true-life Catch-22. It doesn't hold a candle to Catch-22's engaging commentary on (or send up of) the mad, convoluted logic of war and survival. Setting Taliban Shuffle alongside books like Michael Herr's Dispatches or John Hersey's Hiroshima--both great pieces of war journalism that create a strong sense of place, people, and struggle--leaves it pale by comparison. Ms. Barker's Bildungsroman conceit of being an inexperienced journalist who becomes wise in a wild, war-torn environment went a bit too far. In addition, her intrusive presence was irritating at times because she lacks perspective that she seems to believe she has (e.g., she writes that her boyfriend was "only thirty," impugning his experience, when she is just a couple years older -- it made me chuckle). Her constant attempts to be arch were distracting to me; they made the subject matter seem breezy, which didn't feel right given that people's lives were being rent apart in the background. The descriptions of Kabul as a city where Westerners formed their own ex-pat culture and nightlife at odds with Afghans and some of the character portraits of warlords and government ministers are interesting enough, but the writing exhibits an intrusive, self-involved Gen X perspective: "Kim Barker, fledgling journalist and single woman earning her wings in a strange and violent land that is hostile towards women," gets in the way more often than it enhances her portrayal of Afghanistan's complex self-contradictions. Nothing here gripped me or struck me as incredibly insightful. Overall, her account of events on the ground is passable but not great. Perhaps the advance marketing comparing this work to Catch-22 simply set my expectations a few notches too high. Your mileage may vary.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
christopher brasington
Barker's memoir of her time as a foreign correspondent in South Asia is entertaining, informative and well written. I particularly enjoyed her sense of humor and her willingness to poke fun of herself and her situations. I also appreciated the [Western] insider, in depth perspective on that region in the past ten years or so. I read this book while I was in India and there is one paragraph in particular where she describes the experience of living [as a Westerner] in India dead on... which makes me think that her descriptions of the experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan would also be accurate portrayals.
I would recommend this for anyone who has an interest in what has been going on in South Asia, or anyone who would appreciate a humorous memoir of the adrenaline-addict life of a foreign correspondent.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lucy powrie
Exciting & well-told, this book gives scathing look at the country's involvement where it doesn't belong. I'll
be keeping a lookout for Kim Barker's by-line no matter what the subject.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
smetchie
At the beginning of the novel, Kim Barker is fairly naive and typically American. She jumps at the chance for an overseas assignment in Afghanistan... but she knows little of the culture or history of where she's going and none of the language. She makes ugly American mistakes, acting as a prima donna about accommodations and arrangements with little appreciation for the reality of the local situation, that even the basics we take for granted are luxuries. It was hard to get through this part, for me, as I winced at her decisions and actions.

But, as she gains seasoning and experience, she comes to rely on her fixer, and she starts to unveil some real insights into the situation. Fabooj should be training as a doctor - instead he's working as a translator and fixer for journalists, the best paying option for Afghanistan's best and brightest. Her time in Pakistan is where she really seems to get a handle on the politics and the underlying issues and expose them to us.

For most of the book, it feels a little aimless, as does Kim herself.

The blurbs said it would be funny. I did not find it funny at all.

It was interesting, and I was glad to finish it. But, I suspect there are better books out there if you want real insight into Afghanistan or the nature of journalism there.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kathy b
"The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker, (2011), Doubleday, 303 pgs. The `Deer Look caught in Headlights' metaphor well describes the author's experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan: she sees well that a terrorist attack is happening, but doesn't quite fully understand why it is happening. The author saw the immediate aftermath whereby terrorists or Islamikazes killed 'infidels' (and innocent Muslim passersby as unfortunate `collateral damage'). However, I don't recall her asking: "Why are all of these suicide bombers Muslim?" One reviewer wrote that he found this book so interesting that "I couldn't put it down"; contrarily for me, as this book really didn't cover any new ground that others haven't already written about -- I found it difficult to pick it back up after having sat it down (all too frequently I bemoaned: "Will this book never end?"). The only thing really new here were her dating experiences; sad experiences in a sad region. But her dating experiences led to the best line in her book: "I was also trying not to date in Kabul as Afghanistan resembled Alaska if you were a woman - the odds were good but the goods were odd" (p. 123). Even though she may not have witnessed some terrorist attack, she nonetheless related a history of the incident - but I had the feeling that I was reading generic news information; her `first hand' experience was missing. Don't get me wrong, she witnessed as lot of mayhem, but it seemed like she was usually out of the area when the incident occurred, and she was sent in as a stringer to cover the story. I do laud her as a female journalist in putting her `boots on the ground' in a really unsafe region. As a western woman in a Muslim region it was difficult for her to develop `deep', meaningful, prying questions of Islamist leaders for their beliefs, not that she didn't try. It didn't help that she had to rely on local translators, as she didn't speak either Dari or Pashto, and thereby, she couldn't engage in more spontaneous questioning. She wrote: "To understand Pakistan, India was the key" (p. 150). No, you need to first understand Islam, so you can understand why prior to the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, a majority of the Muslims didn't want to coexist amongst Hindus inside India - as they realized they could never regain their former minority control over the Hindus. [To understand the Muslim superiority mentality one needs to read "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" by Robert Spencer.] Ms. Barker was Bambi in Baghlan.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shaun roe
Excellent introduction to the political and cultural history of the region, and an insightful account of the education of a foreign correspondent. Must reading for young journalists.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
desirae
worthwhile read, informative of the social behavior in that geographic area; rambles on a bit here and there - yet overall I came away better informed about the investigative process and its impact on journalists covering the middle east war zone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kehau
I am grateful that Kim Barker has chosen to reveal what it feels like to be an American, and a woman, in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the war against terror. Barker reveals secrets that only a woman would discover in this culture during this war. In the year 2011, the American press seems to have forgotten about the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Barker puts you on a strange battlefield . . . as a foreign correspondent she shows you the secret life of a woman reporter seeking information from national leaders and insurgents. She is captivated by the experience. She tells a great story about her life in this war. At times, I feel like I am sitting next to her in a broken down car on a dusty road visiting a local strongman. This tribal leader could as easily have her murdered as share a cup of tea. She is a brave woman.

I also read Sebastian Junger's book, WAR(and Restrepo). WAR covers the same time frame from the most front battle lines. Junger is dodging bullets and rocket fire. Barker tells the story from the perspective of a woman trying to stay alive in a very hostile environment, though not on the front lines. She is working hard to get an accurate story as a foreign correspondent. I enjoy the contrast between Barker and Junger. I am grateful to have the male and female perspective of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. As a male, I would never have expected some of the experiences she reports that obviously did not occur with Sebastian Junger. I believe Barker's stories are true. Men, and women, will benefit from reading Taliban Shuffle. However, men will benefit more than women will benefit. This is because men would never expect the stories she has to tell. Unfortunately, most women would not be surprised. Taliban Shuffle is an important book about the nature of war. Kim Barker is a talented writer. She tells her story powerfully and persuasively.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hind boodai
As a Chicagoan, former Chicago Tribune reader, and having traveled in Pakistan and India, I was curious about the real life escapades in Afghanistan and Pakistan of Kim Barker, formerly the Tribune's Southeast foreign correspondent. I was not disappointed in the least by her revealing memoir. Ms. Barker put a real "face" to those individuals about whom we dispationately read in our nation's newspapers and on-line. She gives a real insider's view of what it is like to go through security in those countries,(Americans should never complain about the security precautions at US airports afte reading her account) what it is like to have government shadows follow one's every move, how one reacts to phone calls that are never private,what it is like to cover bombing after bombing after bombing,what it is like to be an female expatriate in a third-world country. I highly recommend this book and hope that I might meet the author in person.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
arlyn lopez
This is a good book. It's greatest appeal to me is the insight that it provided into the futility of our misguided involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
amy elliott
Breezy, lightweight collection of notes on time spent hanging out as a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Aside from her saintly "fixer" in Afghanistan, no one comes off well in this book, especially the politicians in both countries. Even after completing the book, I'm unsure if it was meant to have any kind of "gonzo" flavor or if it was just kind of a look backwards after Ms. Barker had left the area and been downsized by her paper, the Chicago Tribune. Some of the best parts of the book are her eviscerating the utterly clueless new owner of the Trib.

Overall -- it's thin, there's not a lot of narrative or purpose here that I was able to discern. Ms. Barker drifts from relationship to relationship, from car bombing to car bombing, never quite engaging with anyone or anything. Her depictions of the politicians in the region are as kind as they can be, yet still damning. An anecdote about an "embed" with a US Army group early in the book which inadvertently resulted in one of the soldiers being moved to a more dangerous area ends up costing him half his leg, yet when they meet again he holds no grudge -- she seems incompetent, not grasping what her story would mean. At no point in the book are solid moorings ever put down. The aimless quality both of the US involvement in the region (say -- what *are* the remaining achievable military objectives over there, anyway?) and her writing make his book kind of a challenge to push through. One hopes an editor tightened things up a bit before it actually went to press in its final form.

That Ms. Barker ended up working for the Council for Foreign Relations makes me wonder if she wasn't CIA or NSA posing as a journalist. But that's just my conspiracy streak at work. A lot of her observations are quite red-state.

Not a lot to recommend here. Proceed at your own peril. Someone added too much water to the soup.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
haylee
I have no idea why this book is billed as a comedy. It is not funny. In the "Advance Praise" blurbs, we are told to "Read this and try not to hurt yourself laughing...It's witty, brilliant, and impossible to put down. Think P. J. O'Rourke meets Paul Theroux." If you hurt yourself while reading this, it is not from laughing. It's from dozing off and hitting your chin on your desk. The comparison to P.J. O'Rourke and Paul Theroux had to be done under the influence of drugs. And Paul Theroux? The world's oldest and crankiest travel writer the paradigm of yuk-meisters?

From the very opening, "Taliban Shuffle" is disappointing. A much-heralded meeting with a powerful Afghani warlord reveals the writers inexperience and immaturity. She finds it an occasion for silly giggling. We learn nothing of the effect this man has on the lives of American troops, or why he has given his support to one side, not the other. Ms. Barker finds him oddly amusing but never gives us a reason for her amusement, and we do not share it. We learn more about the state of the road they drove over to reach the warlord than we ever learn about the warlord himself.

Kim Barker gives us some insights into the political situation and corruption in Afghanistan, but nothing new, nothing we haven't heard before, and her attempts to portray the various bribe-takers and corrupt officials as funny also fall flat. She just does not have a humorous style. We can spot those incidents she thinks funny because this is where she stops to tell us it's funny. Or she tells us she is giggling, or having a hard time hiding her giggles. If she did not give us these signals, I don't think we would ever guess.

Had this not been billed as "uproariously funny" and compared to "Catch 22" in the blurbs, I would not be so hard on the book. It's not that good a read in any event, but as far as funny is concerned? Give your Aunt Frieda a glass of wine and she's funnier.

If you want to read an excellent account of the Afghan war, try "Boots on the Ground" by Clint Willis. Want to know about the people? Read "A Thousand Splendid Suns, the bestseller by Khamed Hosseini. Want to know how much of a difference America's intervention made to the average Afghani (instead of the claims put out by the Bush era PR office)? Pick up the very fine "Kabul in Winter" by Anne Jones. And for a lighter touch and genuinely funny book about an American woman in the Middle East, pick up "The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen" by Jennifer Steil. Smart and funny.

Even James Michener's "Caravans" does a better job. He gives us hefty nuggets of info about the people--from urbanites to nomads, the history, geography, architecture, and various cultures. The novel is dated, but the information still holds true for the most part. In fact,Americans will be probably be surprised to learn that the Taliban didn't change things all that much. They did not invent the repression of women, the Afghanis have enjoyed that custom for centuries. Public executions and stonings have always been fairly commonplace. Mullahs and their goon squads maintained an iron grip on the populace, and when displeased, would mete out instant justice, from spitting on their victims to having them beaten.

None of the above, by the way, is to be found in Barker's book. And to get back to that alleged humor...maybe next time she can circle it so it's easier to find. I am, however, giving the book 3 stars because there are some decent pages where you actually hope the writer hit her stride. She doesn't. If you are addicted to all things Afghani and are eager for a "women's" point of view and don't mind that the woman is a lightweight, you may find parts of this book of interest. That's the best I can say.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
pembenci kecap
I was influenced to buy THE TALIBAN SHUFFLE by the good and thorough review in the New York Times. Then, reading the 30 or so pre-order the store Vine reviews showed me that some readers must have had wildly divergent anticipations and assumptions about this book; maybe the title, maybe the pr reviews. THE TALIBAN SHUFFLE is a darkly funny and poignant memoir by a woman thrown into an impossibly serious and dangerous war situation as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. This book is not your typical deep news or American policy analysis that most books about Afghanistan and Pakistan offer to readers.

I was through a few chapters before I realized that the chapter titles were songs from the 80's and 90's. Clever and actually relevant . What I liked most about THE TALIBAN SHUFFLE Shuffle was Ms. Barker's descriptions of the human scenes, descriptions of what it must feel like to be mixed into such a strange culture while keeping one foot at home. This book is a very quick read and it sticks. Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah watts
I just finished reading Kim Barker's book, "The Taliban Shuffle." She has a gift. In fact, she has many gifts. First of all, Barker has a particularly unique and compelling way of drawing the reader in immediately and making you identify with her, and root for her. She also has the gift of humor, as many people have noted, and she uses this gift well, both to tell the story, sometimes painfully, but always honestly, of her coming of age as a female correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, but, also, very smartly, although this was probably not necessarily her intention, to reach a larger outside audience, especially, maybe, a female audience. Although this book is certainly not just for women. It is for men, as well, for everyone who cares about the deadly U.S. war in Afghanistan, who wants to know what life is like in the murky world of Pakistan, and how a good journalist tries and succeeds to cover these stories.

Yes, on one level, this is a fascinating story about a young, resourceful woman from Montana, who becomes in her early thirties--no small thing--an intrepid, successful foreign correspondent for a major American newspaper (The Chicago Tribune) but on a much wider level, it is the story of life today in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She makes this all appear easy, but beneath her humor lies the cold truth of how hard, and dangerous it is to be a journalist, especially a woman, in South Asia.

Full disclosure: I know Kim Barker and admire and respect her. I met her in Herat, Afghanistan in February 2002. Herat is the home of Ismail Khan, a famous Mujahideen commander who led the fight against the Soviet Union in the 1980s in Herat, and was still then the most powerful Afghan in western Afghanistan. He agreed to meet with a small group of journalists. A much larger group jockeyed for position outside his door. When it opened, Barker worked her way inside expertly while a number of us stood haplessly back out on the street. There was no way that she wasn't going to make it, and this book makes clear, in a humorous, self-effacing, thoughtful and wonderful way that she certainly did.

She has many stories to tell, and through each one, some of them seemingly innocent or off-beat, her trade-mark, tells us much about Afghanistan and Pakistan, whether it is the Pak-Asia circus in Kabul, a Chinese-run brothel, Abdul Sabit, the self-appointed one man anti-vice commission, an Afghan wedding, an inside look at former Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, the death of Benazir Bhutto, her boyfriends, her suitors, the claustrophobic, ostrich-like lifestyle of foreigners in Kabul, which she calls Kabul High, life at l'Atmosphere, a French restaurant and watering hole for aid workers and mercenaries, or a truly poignant story about a young American soldier gravely wounded. Whether she writes about her trusted, capable and tireless Afghan fixer, Farooq, her social life, or what it was like working for Sam Zell, owner of the Chicago Tribune, we are always with her.

I strongly recommend Barker's book. It is a very interesting story of a female journalist at work in the alien worlds of Afghanistan and Pakistan, places she comes to love, and it is also the story of what it is like for a strong, talented, kind, and brave woman to truly confront herself, and the world around her, and the rewards, and the price, one pays, as a result, of being a foreign correspondent. When you finish this book you very much want to know what she is going to do next.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mhandearikan
Perhaps it was my expectations of something far more humorous that would hold my attention waiting for the next punch-line (a hat-tip to the book's dedication). But, frankly, it seems to read more like the diary of a suburban American teenager traveling in south-central Asia. Occasional glimpses of the people of Afghanistan are too few and they tend to come across as condescending observations of the 'quaint little villagers and their simple-minded but misplaced trust.' The brief glimpses are all that manage to squeak this by as more than two stars.

The book is being described in a way that makes us expect satire. Satire needs two elements - humor combined with critical thought. The humor is hardly enough to engender a smile and the insights are too shallow to raise one past a daydream much less to critical thinking. If it does not make us laugh or think, then it has failed the primary purpose. Still, there are those brief encounters with the characters of Afghanistan and the political actors involved impacting their lives that save it from an even more harsh review.

The serious fan of political satire will likely be disappointed. However, the number of positive reviews indicate it appeals to some.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
youshik
Entertaining read of what it takes to get the words under the headlines & bylines. Rings true to life during "reconstruction" in southwest Asia in the '00s.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
hater shepard
I read this after seeing Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which was based on Kim Barker's book. Good read - grittier than the film, but with the same wry attitude.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
koji shimomura
Great book, very well written & enlightening. Interesting to learn about the messes we create.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
cybersandee
Kim Barker's Taliban Shuffle is Ms. Barker's memoir recounting her reporting assignments in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the US war in Afghanistan. Barker is kind of a screw-up, an admitted screw-up and there are many times in her story when it is clear she did not feel she belonged there. Do not read this if you are looking solely for a story of Afghanistan, but do read this if you are looking for a memoir of that time from a writer who (efreshingly) does not take herself too seriously. Barker tells her story with enough sardonic humor to make this an enjoyable read, but not too much as to make light of a serious situation. Enjoy!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
donald b
After seeing WTF, wanted to read the book. I was not disappointed and learned more about what it was really like there. My take away was that we had no business being there trying to change that ancient culture. I'm glad she made it home.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
rboehme
Great read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ingrid thomas
I picked up "The Taliban Shuffle" when I was in Washington over the weekend and stayed up way too late the last couple of nights to finish it. In a nutshell? It's terrific and you should read it. I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but "The Taliban Shuffle" kept me entertained while I learned a lot about a part of the world I will never visit. It left such an impression that I got online to check out what the real book critics had to say. I couldn't possibly write anything better than Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times. So this is my lazy, "Yeah, what she said":

"What's remarkable about "The Taliban Shuffle" is that its author, Kim Barker -- a reporter at ProPublica and the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009 -- has written an account of her experiences covering Afghanistan and Pakistan that manages to be hilarious and harrowing, witty and illuminating, all at the same time.

It's not just that Ms. Barker is adept at dramatizing her own adventures as a reporter -- though she develops the chops of a veteran foreign correspondent, she depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war. It's also that Ms. Barker has discovered a voice in these pages that enables her to capture both the serious and the seriously absurd conditions in Af-Pak (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and the surreal deal of being a female reporter there, with dating problems ranging from the screwball (a boyfriend competing to cover the same story) to the ridiculous (being romantically pursued by the former prime minister of Pakistan).

Black humor, it turns out, is a perfect tool for capturing the sad-awful-frequently-insane incongruities of war."
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tori steinmeier
Good book hope the movie comes close.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
angel morris
A good read and one I found as addicting as the war itself.

South Asia is not an area of study that one can just grab the Cliff Notes for and get easy insights to. It is an area that has never fit into Western dogmas. The Soviet Russians found this out the hard way in the 1980s. The region requires a nuanced understanding of human nature and the contradictory personalities that dominate the power structures of this region. Kim Barker offers a partial guide that will allow the reader to at least whistle pass the graveyard of empires while gaining some insights into it.

Her book perfectly captures the additive and corrosive nature of being in a war zone. She was with the Chicago Tribune in South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, & India) an awfully long time from 2002- 09 and there is something for every worldview in this book.

For the soldier there who thought that all the civilian and contractor Expats were Godless hedonists who flaunted the fact that General Order #1 (no alcohol and sex among other things) did not apply to them and want to see all the things that you knew were going on but couldn't be a part of then this is your book.

For the civilian aide workers and journalists who thought the military was filled with English-as-the-only-language brutes yelling at people who had no idea of what they were talking about and waving cash bundles at problems while trying to impose foreign values on people that did not understand them then this is your book.

For Americans who have never been to South Asia and are confused over the various the insights that escape this inscrutable region from various published reports and want to know if all the crazy and contradictory things about it are made up or real then this is your book.

In some ways it's almost like reading about the decline of the Roman Empire without the togas... oh wait... there are togas in this book too.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tiffany carter
Having lived myself in non-war zone Third World countries for 20 years, Kim Barker's book was a breath of fresh air. Brilliant in her honest and frank assessment of Americans in a land we don't have a clue about. No glossy spoonful of sugar, just the dismal reality of a Fifth World land where we play big brother, who always knows better. You'll laugh, you'll cry...then you'll wonder why people go abroad. Barker is just as frank about her own weaknesses, as our goverment's. Best read I've had in 2011.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ceviliel
Excellent story about what is like to be a reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 2000's. Book read quick and gives an insight to the stark differences between the two countries.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
carrie
Entertaining, but it sometimes drifted. Having seen the movie first probably biased me a bit.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
park00
This is a woman reporter's life in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 2003 period when the war there was being eclipsed by events in Iraq and the American foothold was gradually sliding backwards. The book is offbeat in being more about the personalities involved, and Ms. Barker's personal life, than the big picture military or political events. One could say it's the microcosmic view or even the 'chick flick' of war books - including her ongoing concerns what to wear (green camo or flat dark earth?) It does give a vivid picture of the characters who filled Barker's time there, the Afghans from local police to top officials including a leading Pakistani politician, the US military (who come across just as badly suited to this war as they were to the one in Vietnam), the community of expat journalists, and her boyfriends.

Especially her boyfriends. Barker seems to have a bit of a disorderly life, including an attraction to sketchy characters both personally and as a journalist. I found myself wishing she would stay away from this or that individual, for her own good. Her writing is effective in conveying the texture of people and daily life in that part of the world. But somehow the book is off kilter. While Barker was incredibly courageous in her work, her personal life is not really so interesting, and she comes across as unappealing, vain, and hard to get along with. Some of her involvements with the political figures bordered on inappropriate for a reporter. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what is wrong with the book, but somehow her personal shambles of a life is overly mixed with the political and military shambles of two nations. I was left with confused impressions.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
susanna walsh
Much like a diary - some interesting parts. Was not interested in all her personal relationships with other journalists. Liked the beginning -some witty cracks. Read another book about a lone survivor, and thought this would provide a lot more insight of what is happening in this part of the world...was not as informative as I hoped it would be.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julia gordon
This girl had no clue. She was a mess. She was disorganized, in a crappy relationship, did not know what was going on around her, was ignorant and arrogant. Then she flew to Afghanistan, acted even more clueless, insulting and arrogant. Then, she developed some interest in the country, and later downright fell in love with it. And that changed her. The arrogance disappeared, and was replaced by respect for other people, other cultures. She became a war junkie during that time, did some seriously stupid things, but she matured, became a real grown up. She ended this chapter of her life with having a clue.
That is the story Kim Barker tells in this book. The story of personal growth, interwoven with her adventures as a foreign correspondent for a Chicago newspaper.
The stories she has to tell do not reveal any big surprises about Afghanistan, the war there, the Taliban or the US handling of all that mess. There are other books out there, which already dealt with those aspects. What makes this book stand out amongst them is the unique perspective of a somewhat naive American girl, who was thrown into this alien world with no preparation at all. She eventually learns to get a grip on this strange world, and on herself. She learns, matures, and lets the reader take part in this process.
Some adventures she describes are downright hilarious, others are very sad, some are a bit strange, but all are interesting. Her writing style is not the most polished one can imagine, but it gets the message across. She is a no frills person, sometimes harsh, sometimes brash, and that is beautifully reflected in her writing style.
The book is very entertaining, especially for someone like me, who has read about half a doyen books about the current Afghanistan war, most of them are more serious historical and political scholarly works.
This book tells the tale from a refreshingly different, very personal perspective.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dawn hancock
Perhaps "The Taliban Shuffle" is a slyly disguised prophecy. If the ongoing and insoluble disasters of the Middle East can radiate enough despair to the world outside, they may eventually exhaust the supply. And perhaps the void of spent hatreds and failed hopes will be filled by a rediscovery of humor as a first step toward sanity.

Don't hold your breath waiting for such a thing to happen. But you can at least sample some resurgent humor as if it had. Former Chicago Tribune journalist Kim Barker has chronicled a harrowing and ditzy romp through the heart of Islamic darkness which is sharply different from every other book I've read about the region: it is actually funny. Her wordplay is witty, her prose moves like a breathless personal letter. She wields a flippant attitude like a razor, treating press interviews with warlords, presidents and power brokers like blind dates, obsessing over her clothes and make-up like the comic strip character, Cathy.

The brutality of Afghans toward one another (particularly their women) is subtly contrasted with their paradoxically sincere hospitality toward strangers (particularly if they're women). The customary regional indignities of being female (the endless propositions and butt-grabs) are treated less with righteous indignation than comic exasperation: one misogynistic overreacher gets punched in the nose.

Her narrative focus is quintessentially feminine: relationships--family, fellow journalists, translators, drivers, interviewees--are analyzed in excruciating detail, and we read more about what people are wearing than any guy would tell us. Her humor has just enough self-parody to suggest some of it may be unintended. Her musing about potential war-zone romantic candidates reminded me of the clueless letters usually addressed to Dear Abby.

One soon realizes that wisdom and incisive judgment are not prominent facets of Kim's mind. Unlike say, Sara Chayes in "The Punishment of Virtue" she offers no original perspectives, practical policy critiques nor shows any notable passion for seeing improvement in Afghans' lives. If she met any locals she admired or thought constructive, they aren't in this book. Locals seem mostly a dysfunctional backdrop for anecdotes, a career in journalism and a livelier Facebook persona.

I don't mean that it's a lousy book. It delivers on readability, but the tone is more personal and gossipy than informative. I did enjoy seeing a splash of bright humor fall on such a dismal subject. Humor can be a potent weapon in the conflict of ideas and it's one of the few nobody's tried in the Middle East.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marlow
Kim Barker arrives in Kabul an awkward newbie.
After 7 years she grows to love both countries and becomes a seasoned reporter.
Her outlook and description of what was actually happening in both countries borders on dark humor.
It's a different look at both countries.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dee cuadra
Barker does an amazing job sharing her unbelievable experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a front line reporter on the war on terror.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
nora lester
"The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker, (2011), Doubleday, 303 pgs. A `Deer Look caught in Headlights' describes the author's experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan: she sees well that a terrorist attack is happening, but doesn't quite fully understand WHY it is happening. The author saw the immediate aftermath whereby terrorists or Islamikazes killed 'infidels' (and innocent Muslim passersby as unfortunate `collateral damage'). However, I don't recall her asking: "Why are all of these suicide bombers Muslim?" One reviewer wrote that he found this book so interesting that "I couldn't put it down"; contrarily for me, as this book really didn't cover any new ground that others haven't already written about -- I found it hard to pick it back up after setting it down (all too frequently I bemoaned: "Will this book never end?"). The only thing really new here were her dating experiences; sad experiences in a sad region. But her dating experiences led to the best line in her book: "I was also trying not to date in Kabul as Afghanistan resembled Alaska if you were a woman - the odds were good but the goods were odd" (p. 123). Even though she may not have witnessed some terrorist attack, she nonetheless related a history of the incident - but I had the feeling that I was reading generic news information; her `first hand' experience was missing. Don't get me wrong, she witnessed as lot of mayhem, but it seemed like she was usually out of the area when the incident occurred, and she was sent in as a stringer to cover the story. I do laud her as a female journalist in putting her `boots on the ground' in a really unsafe region. As a western woman in a Muslim region it was difficult for her to develop `deep', meaningful, prying questions of Islamist leaders for their beliefs, not that she didn't try. It didn't help that she had to rely on local translators, as she didn't speak either Dari or Pashto, and thereby, she couldn't engage in more spontaneous questioning. She wrote: "To understand Pakistan, India was the key" (p. 150). No, you need to first understand Islam, so you can understand why prior to the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, a majority of the Muslims didn't want to coexist amongst Hindus inside India - as they realized they could never regain their former minority control over the Hindus. [To understand the Muslim superiority mentality one needs to read "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" by Robert Spencer.] Ms. Barker was Bambi in Baghlan.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kvandorn
Ms Barker's hilarious account of her bad hair days and rookie mistakes as a reporter during the early days of the war on terror's Afghan and Pakistani frontline makes for massively entertaining reading. With so many I-take-myself-too-seriously/ boys-own type of books out there on the war on terror, it's refreshing to have a book come along that is fresh, real, honest and downright laugh-out-loud funny. Yet at the same time, revealing a deep understanding of the fissures that shape that corner of the earth and make it one of the most difficult conflicts to ever even begin to understand. Read it!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy sader
I spent time in Iraq. This is gritty, honest, amusing, terrifying, terrifically informing, so sad and greatly needed. Thanks, Kim!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mubarak
This was an interesting and informative first person account of the nightmare that is the Middle East. It was, however, somewhat repetitive and too convoluted to justify its length.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kevin barnard
This is a wonderful, riveting book with a lively cast of characters and can't-put-it-down flow.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alegria
Great read - funny, sad, enlightening about our foolish and wasteful Middle East policies.It was hard to put the book down.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
xiang qin
Mostly dark, sarcastic humor it must be said. It was good to see a different side of some of the events and personalities in the current Afghan war. But a lot of the book was thin, personal commentary that simply wasn't interesting enough to warrant a book. There are a lot of Afghan accounts coming out now, and this isn't a bad one, but it's also not a great one.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
anudeep paduru
Yes, it had to happen- I finally ordered a Vine book I didn't like. It's my fault I guess, I was expecting something like a liberal version of PJ O'Rourke's "Give War a Chance". Well, I did get a more liberal writer, no doubt. But nary a laugh- nor even a chuckle. Heck, I may not always agree with PJ, but I get plenty of laughs from his writings.

I was also hoping for some deep insights into Afghanistan. Nope. But I got plenty of shallow, personal observations. And of course the constant refrain that the USA had messed up badly. Hardly a newsflash. Of course, being Afghanistan- every nation that has gone in there in any way has messed up badly, America is hardly unique.

It has been billed as "of what it is like to be a female journalist in one of the world's most exotic war zones", but the "female" part is most of the book, while the journalist part seems barely there. Time after time we get to know about various politicos flirting with her or about various members of the press corps stealing a kiss in a bathroom. And of course, what's she's wearing. Yes, folks, we get to know a lot about Kim Barkers wardrobe, although to give her credit it's hardly Prada. When she finally gets a chance to spend time in the front lines, she gets out quickly as the site is boring and dusty. Very dusty. Well, war is mostly boring- punctuated by moments of extreme terror.

Now, on the other hand, we do get to see the personal side of a lot of politicos and other people in Afghanistan, a side we rarely see. That much is good and well done.

Still- not funny at all. Of course, humor is a personal thing, and you may find yourself laughing out loud. Or not.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mairi
Gives good view of politics, etc. in this part of the world.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
rindy girl
This book contains a few tidbits of interesting information about Afghanistan, but the author spends far too much time talking about her clothing and relationships with men and other frivolous aspects of her personal life. I picked this book up because I am trying to learn more about one of the most important countries in the world right now; I don't care about how cute this lady thinks some guy is or how this outfit shows off her figure or how that top matches her pants or how much fun she had at a party. I guess she is trying to make the story personable and relatable for a Western audience, but I just felt like I was wasting my time reading it.

I strongly recommend skipping this one and instead picking up 'The Places in Between.' It's gripping, intense, and infinitely more informative than 'The Taliban Shuffle.'
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tawny
I've read at least a dozen books about Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an effort to understand what is happening there and why. This book is unique; it's written from the perspective of your "I'm smarter than you" sister (who actually is smarter than you), and is not only smart, but very perceptive and articulate. It adds little significant to the overall picture, but puts it in a perspective that is enlightening. Well worth reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
genie kosen stewart
Because I'm being posted to Pakistan soon, I'm reading up on current events. I wasn't sure I would stick with "Shuffle" as the first chapters focus on Afghanistan and the author's romantic relationships(or lack of). It's Afghanistan. She was expecting Omar Shariif? But Kim Barker is a talented storyteller and the personal anecdotes concerning that region's movers and shakers are so funny it's sad; cold buckets of reality for anyone looking for reliable partners there.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
bhavisha
I am very ambivalent about this book. I believe that books which purport to educate us about current events and current situations should stick to the facts. Having been in Kabul last year, I found the first three chapters especially to contain a lot of hyperbole. The picture Kim paints of the city is designed to feed our stereotypes. On the other hand, I laughed out loud many times.

My bigger beef, though, has to do with Kim writing about the expat social scene in Afghanistan. I was not part of it, and therefore don't know how accurate her description was, but having known expats in other parts of the world, it rings true. Writing about it in a book, however, does more harm than good. Taliban Shuffle will be read in Kabul, as was Beauty Shop of Kabul. (some Afghan girls I knew were reading it in their book club.) Beauty Shop opens with a story about how Debbie Rodriguez helped her girlfriend disguise the fact that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night. Any of us might have (I would have) helped the woman fake her virginity like Debbie did, but to write about it unveiled the deception, brought shame on the woman's husband and led to the woman having to flee the country under the threat of death. Taliban Shuffle is of the same ilk: Books that feed the writer's ego and bring harm to the people they write about.

Even though many Afghans already believe that we Westerners are depraved, this book spells it out. It could be/would likely be interpreted that she helped corrupt her fixer by taking him to parties with rampant sex and alcohol. Taliban Shuffle gives ammunition to the fundamentalists. The disturbing thing is that Kim acknowledged that what she was doing was not an appropriate way to behave in a conservative Muslim country in which local women are working hard with the help of foreigners to gain more freedom, but she did it anyway. Before this book, Afghans could only conjecture about what Westerners do behind closed doors, now they have proof. Only a percentage of foreigners participate in this social scene, but for Afghans reading this book, (and they will) it will be assumed that all of us behave this way. It makes Afghanistan more dangerous for all expats there.

All that said, the book gives readers an intimate look at the life of an overseas reporter and insight into the publishing industry. I now understand the incredible stress the reporters live under and also their need for release. I just wish that that need were fulfilled in a more private way. People who live in our free and open society often don't realize how irresponsible it is to blatantly and publicly flout cherished ideals in restrictive societies. Taliban Shuffle adds yet another match to the tinderbox and works against the endeavors of those sincerely trying to help Afghan women.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
bovel
It was like reading a diary.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
srimanti
If you like the book, Three Cups of Tea then you will love The Taliban Shuffle. Kim Barker spent seven years reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. As she "shuffled" between these two countries she forms and writes about her experience and predictions for these two volatile countries. A compelling read.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
josh bradford
This is a self-absorbed journalist's book about her time in Afghanistan. It's all about Kim. In one passage she teases another writer, saying he's the sort of person who would write a book called "My War" without any sense of irony. The irony, of course, is that Barker has written just such a book.

Readers will find no insights into Afghanistan, Pakistan, the conflicts, the history, or the societies. Instead they'll learn of the author's participation in alcohol-fueled toga parties among the Kabul-based journalists. They'll learn little about the political consequences of suicide bombings, but will hear about the author's feelings when she races to cover them. They'll discover nothing about the roots of Afghans' social conservatism, but will get an earful of Barker's sanctimony when --in the final handful of pages-- she criticizes everybody from Karzai to the U.S. soldiers to all journalists except herself for knowing nothing about Afghanistan. Again, all without a sense of irony. Without the sense that she's written little more than a subjective little diary full of contradictions, emotion-filled reactions, and whiny platitudes.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
shelley moreno
Not a fan. Couldn't get past the first 40 pages. Maybe if I watch the movie it will be better???? Totally let down!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
steve coughlan
Ms. Barker's travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan put a new light on a sour subject. Knowing she's come from modest beginnings in Montana and advances to this level humanizes her. She adds a personal touch to a war that seems endless. Taliban Shuffle provides the reader with factual information with a slice of humor.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rae solomon
Excellent book from a unique (female war reporter) perspective. This is one half history and one half biography. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. I think you will find this book intriguing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
otothebeirne
This is simply an amazing book. Entertaining yet serious. It fully and respectfully captures what it's like to be in a place where there's sometimes no other way to cope except making the best of it with forbidden fun.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mohamed abdallah
Having lived and worked in Pakistan myself I struggled to give friends and family a "taste" of what life is like in "the most dangerous country in the world".

Kim's book provides a darkly funny, rich and colourful window into a very complex region. The Taliban Shuffle is accessible to non-experts and Kim reads like dry champagne - crisp, bubbly but never sweet.

Brilliant.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
frank formica
This was both fun and educational reading. Loved Ms. Barker's writing style. I'd recommend it to anyone who's wondered about what Afghanistan and Pakistan is like for foreigners during that time.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
cassie milligan
This is only the second book I could not finish. After 102 pages, I was done. There were two times I laughed or felt engaged. The rest of the time I felt like someone was trying to fluff up enough stuff to write a book. I realize the author has had plenty of exposure to Afghanistan and has a passion for the topic. There was just not enough interesting material here for a book - more about the author than the subject at hand. Good thing Kim is a journalist.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
yyone
This book reminds me a great deal of Greg Mortenson's. The bookstore shelves these days are rife with the highly exaggerated or falsified accounts of westerner's experiences in the developing world. Westerners have always been arrogant and self-important when traveling amongst non-Europeans in the so called `third world' and this woman's absurd accounts are exemplary of this. Her claims seem to have little purpose other than to feed her ego, never mind the non-existent believability factor.

The characteristics she ascribes to various Afghans seem more like American behaviors than anything you would actually witness amongst Afghans. In one incident she claims an Afghan woman grabbed her breasts and crotch at a check point and commented `nice'. Hard to believe that an Afghan woman would behave this way. Afghan woman are very conservative, sex is a very taboo issue and people do not generally comment on each other's breasts and crotch', let alone grab them in a place like Afghanistan. In fact I find it hard to imagine most Afghans who have not been exposed to western culture and media could even think to behave in such a manner which is more of an American cliché than anything you would ever witness in Afghan media or society.

She then goes on to claim that an elderly Afghan woman whom she asked directions of, insisted on a kiss before she would answer. Afghans do not generally kiss foreigners nor is there any explanation of why some random woman was so enthralled by this American that she would make such a demand. This behavior is unlikely in a conservative society where people find such issues as kissing, touching and making demands on strangers very rude and taboo.
In another incident she claims an Afghan official, supposedly called `silver fox' insisted on kissing her on one cheek then the other. In fact there is no term in either of Afghanistan's official languages that translates to `silver fox'. Incidentally, she never bothers to explain why a government official would make such a demand. I suppose the reader should assume that it's because she is highly desirable. It seems this poor woman couldn't walk around more than one corner of Afghanistan without everyone she met demanding kisses and groping her. She includes many such accounts for no particular rhyme or reason as they offer little insight into anything other than, apparently, how desirable she is.

Hence my conclusion, that this collection of tales are the delusions of a pompous westerner who has arrived in this foreign land with an expectation that she will be admired and necessarily captivating to the natives. This is a common attitude that western Europeans have carried with them to these parts of the world for generations. It is vainglorious, self-satisfied, lost in self delusions of grandeur, like a mental patient, happy and smug with themselves. Convinced of their own importance and self-assured that the unwashed masses of natives will undoubtedly be enthralled by them. In fact they are mostly nothing but a nuisance at best and an insidious imperialist plague at worst. They gouge the rest of the world, live fat and happy off the resources and labor of the underdeveloped world then delude themselves with a sense of self important grandeur in which they are helping the very people they are robbing. If they weren't a genocidal menace on the rest of humanity they would be a comical and pathetic farce, a lesson in the absurdities of European racism and arrogance. Kim Barker is truly an heir to the colonial mentality of a past era and her buffoonish and ridiculous stories are not worth the paper they were printed on.

These stories appear to be figments of the author's imagination and possibly her own sexual fantasies, never mind the wild cultural inaccuracies. If you are looking for real and honest insights into Afghanistan, may I suggest `West of Kabul, East of New York' by Tamim Ansary.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
glen
A ditzy, bimbo female "journalist" on the lose in a war zone. A gutsy female reporter defying all odds wannabe. I found her to be arrogant, obnoxious, and out of touch. Ms. Barker is the epitome of why I lack respect for so many journalists. I do try to appreciate what war correspondents go through to bring us the story, unbiased hopefully, which doesn't happen too much these days, still, they are living in danger and that is to be respected.

But this gal simply doesn't have a clue. Personally I think she would benefit from some time on the couch w/a shrink than to traipse around in war zones to figure out why she is such a lost, sad, pathetic woman. Like others I ask where is the humor? I could see a few attempts at it but they were not successful. Where is the substance? I couldn't find any. I have read other books describing the nightly party scenes of journalists out looking for a good time and a lay, but this woman's saga was wasn't interesting or spell binding, it was boring. I find it hard that anyone would give this book 5 stars, unless they are family/friends. If you are looking for a story of a lonely gal on an escapade to find a man under the guise of a writer in war then this is the book for you.

*I did go online to read some of Ms. Barker's articles and they didn't hold my attention either.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
nathan neeley
One of my writing professors once shared, "if I ask you to write about a tomato - yes, a tomato - and if instead, I come away knowing what you look like... Then you have failed."

It sounds remarkably silly, but coming from someone whose books won the National Book Critics Circle Award and were nominated for the Pulitzer, this was actually a serious lesson for beginner writers. When I talk about that moment now with fellow students from the class, we recognize, in hindsight, what was really being taught here; "Remember, sometimes it's not about you. Less is better. Dig deep. Don't settle for the easy way out."

At the time, this professor was trying to separate those who could actually take on the real work of writing - the heavy lifting - from the younger, "oh-look-at-me" sophomoric writers who inevitably, when they had nothing else to say, simply wrote about themselves.

This book is sort of like reading one of those writers. It's not funny at all. I think maybe, when people mentally transplant the author to American soil, it could be sort of amusing. Sort of. When I picked up the book I thought this would be a self-deprecating, ironic story complete with well intentioned but hilarious, disastrous moments. No. Sorry. This book is not that.

When you take into account that the author does such a bad job at capturing Afghanistan in general, it takes the book even further away from funny and more towards the opposite direction. It reads like a sophomore essay that has so clearly failed at the assignment. It's just sad. And even the intended humor gets swallowed by the pain you're feeling on behalf of the poor kid who's about to get his ass handed to him because, well, the kid failed.

I read this book as part of a Campus Book Club at my university as part of our "Af-Pak Month." There are lots of books about the region, but this elicited some of the strongest reactions among our group. One of the most memorable was from a student who shared that somewhere in India (I think she said New Delhi), there is a collection of letters from the British Colonial Period, written by British civilians who accompanied or visited their relatives stationed with British troops. Even the most well intentioned writers among them, simply could not relate to the "native," the "Hindoo," or essentially, "the Other." Instead, many of them would come up with their own opinionated narratives as to why Indian women wore saris, or why the Indians hadn't come up with forks and knives and ate with their hands. They resorted to simplistic one-liners to explain why the Indians loved yoghurt or Gandhi drank his goat milk (one memorable letter apparently mentioned, `they learn to breed, as fast as they learn to farm,' or something to that effect).

I may have been disappointed with "The Taliban Shuffle," when I first read it. But after this student (in a very clever way, I thought) elucidated the rather deep-seated problem with it, I now hate it. The worst part is, I don't even have to look through the book to see what she's getting at. In the first chapter alone, I come across all the superficial one-liners that explain why Afghan men fight, or why they like flowers.

Its not that we're a bunch of serious readers- we've read "Bossy Pants" by Tina Fey, and "Eat, Pray, Love" (which, I thought was so funny, sincere and beautifully written). I am currently reading Mindy Kaling's autobiography. I particularly love David Foster Wallace's "Big Red Son," which made me laugh out loud several times.

What I have learned from these writers is that humor is so very tricky. Its incredibly difficult to write, but if you succeed, the reading experience then becomes a beautiful Brechtian dynamic of simultaneously laughing while recognizing the humanity inherent in the situation.

Sadly, I think this book captures a different lesson. I originally offered, ""if you couldn't write about the tomato without making it about you, should you even be writing?" My Book Club friends had this final thought: when you fail at being funny when writing about Afghanistan and Afghans, you end up highlighting a host of serious problems about your perspective as a Western journalist in Afghanistan.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
mayuri
worse
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
elaine
Don't understand why she wrote this book. She doesn't understand the Middle East and what happens isn't interesting. Don't like her and don't want to read about her.
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