A couple of years ago, a movie came and went starring Tina Fey called Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the military call letters for WTF. I didn’t even remember the movie until I went looking for reviews for The Taliban Shuffle after I’d read it. I sometimes like to read reviews after I’ve finished a book, just to see if my thinking is in line with the critics’. One thing I discovered while doing so this time, apart from the fact that the book was made in to a movie, was that the reviews are as mixed as the characters in Kim Barker’s memoir.
Barker is a wet-behind-the-ears reporter when she lands in Afghanistan to write stories about people nobody back home much cares about, in the middle of a war our country has largely forgotten. She’s as green as green can be; at times she reminds me of Cheryl Strayed, sitting on the side of the mountain on the Appalachian Trail with no shoes. But she’s hungry, and she wants to do her job, and she wants to report. And so she sets off, this intrepid young reporter, to discover something to write about.
Aided by her driver, a man who served as a translator, a bodyguard, a sherpa, a cultural instructor, and, sweetly, a friend, she traipses through Afghanistan and Pakistan in a post 9/11 world, trying to explain to those of us back home what’s happening and why we should care. It’s a time when the soldiers have been there long enough that they are bored, and the reporters are even more bored, so they find themselves creating a little enclave of orphans, much like what I imagine the ex-pats in Paris and Madrid in the 1920s to have been like, only instead of wine and cheese and the running of the bulls with Hemingway, it’s Chinese brothels and too much alcohol and the danger of being a woman – uncovered and unaccompanied – in a country where females are not seen as equal.
The negative reviews focused on Barker’s selfishness and navel-gazing – Huffington Post used the word narcissism – and that is somewhat true. But I also think that Barker had a rough go of it, some of her own making and some just because war is, as the saying goes, hell, and this book and her attitude is her way of dealing with it. Thinking about it now, and having happened upon a couple of episodes of M*A*S*H recently, she’s not unlike Hawkeye Pierce. That is to say, good at her job, funny, self-deprecating, and very, very aware of the shitty nature of the world.
Although Hawkeye was never propositioned by the former Pakistani prime minister. So there’s that.
More reviews found here.