Monday, May 4, 2009

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
and David Oliver Relin

Hardback: 338 pages
Publisher: Viking Penguin
First Released: 2006

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: Library

Back Cover Description:
The inspiring account of one man's campaign to build schools in the most dangerous, remote, and anti-American reaches of Asia

In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time—Greg Mortenson’s one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.

Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin has collaborated on this spellbinding account of Mortenson’s incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are often feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself. At last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world—one school at a time.

This book is mainly a biography of Greg Mortenson's life as written by David Oliver Relin. Much of the book takes place in the USA. For most of the book, only glimpses are given into what life is like in Pakistan and Afghanistan--and that's mainly of the lives of the adults.

Up until page 202, the book is narrowly focused on events from Greg's point of view and is written in a "as it happened" style. This section describes his climb on K2 in Pakistan and how he lost his way when descending and ended up in a remote mountain village. It also covers his childhood, details about how he raised support in the USA to build the schools in Pakistan, and the many troubles he encountered in getting the first school built. It also covers his marriage, the births of his two children, how he was given a full-time job building school-building, how he found the staff for his new organization. It then gives a whirlwind list of schools, women's vocational centers, wells, porter schools, and so on that the organization has built.

The book makes the first school seem to be all about Greg rather than the children. It's a way for him to deal with his grief over his sister's death, to feel appreciated, and to add purpose to his life. David Relin hardly shows Greg in contact with children. However, Greg Mortenson does come across as good-hearted and determined though often naive and impatient in those first years.

As a side note, Greg was raised Christian, but he learns how to pray like Muslims as a way to make friends and he has Buddhist chants played during his daughter's birth. The book only gives a glimpse into Muslim life in Pakistan.

In the last third of the book, there were several short "how schools changed life for the children" stories and how Greg's other projects helped change life for adult women. This section also gives a good overview of what was happening politically in the region at the time (including a sudden rise in extremist schools being built in the poor areas). It also describes Greg's experiences in Pakistan when 9/11 happened and what life was like in Afghanistan after we removed the Taliban from control. This includes some local's views on the events.

I didn't find the first 201 pages of the book interesting, but I was very interested by the last third of the book. I think mountaineers might enjoy the first part of the book because it has many descriptions of climbs and mountain scenery. This section will probably also appeal to people who want to know more about Greg Mortenson or the many trials and sufferings he went through to build the schools. (The troubles are similar to that of most outreaches.)

The last third of the book will interest anyone wanting to know more about life in Pakistan and Afghanistan post-9/11 and how Greg's projects are making a difference in the lives of those living in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
In Pakistan's Karakoram, bristling across an area barely one hundred miles wide, more than sixty of the world's tallest mountains lord their severe alpine beauty over a witnessless high-altitude wilderness. Other than snow leopard and ibex, so few living creatures have passed through this barren icescape that the presence of the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was little more than a rumor to the outside world until the turn of the twentieth century.

Flowing down from K2 toward the populated upper reaches of the Indus Valley, between the four fluted granite spires of the Gasherbrums and the lethal-looking daggers of the Great Trango Towers, the sixty-two kilometer-long Baltoro Glacier barely disturbs this still cathedral of rock and ice. And even the motion of this frozen river, which drifts at a rate of four inches a day, is almost undetectable.

On the afternoon of September 2, 1993, Greg Mortenson felt as if he were scarcely traveling any faster. Dressed in a much-patched set of mud-colored shalwar kamiz, like his Pakistani porters, he had the sensation that his heavy black leather mountaineering boots were independently steering him down the Baltoro at their own glacial speed, through an armada of icebergs arrayed like the sails of a thousand ice-bound ships.

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