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An Unexpected Light
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Jason Elliot lives in London. This is his first book.

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This extraordinary debut is an account of Elliot's two visits to Afghanistan. The first occurred when he joined the mujaheddin circa 1979 and was smuggled into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan; the second happened nearly ten years later, when he returned to the still war-torn land. The skirmishes that Elliot painstakingly describes here took place between the Taliban and the government of Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud in Kabul. Today, the Taliban are in power, but Elliot's sympathies clearly lie with Massoud. Although he thought long and hard before abandoning his plan to travel to Hazara territory, where "not a chicken could cross that pass without being fired on," Elliot traveled widely in the hinterland, visiting Faizabad in the north and Herat in the west. The result is some of the finest travel writing in recent years. With its luminous descriptions of the people, the landscape (even when pockmarked by landmines), and Sufism, this book has all the hallmarks of a classic, and it puts Elliot in the same league as Robert Byron and Bruce Chatwin. Enthusiastically recommended for all travel collections.DRavi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

An account of a trip through war-torn and poverty-stricken Afghanistan, this remarkable book could have been titled "An Unexpected Beauty." Elliot, who first traveled to the country as a 19-year-old enthusiast of the mujahedin, has no illusions about the inherent shortcomings of travel writing ("a semi-fictional collection of descriptions that affirm the prejudices of the day"). He also dismisses the journalistic method, which relies on a single bombed-out street in Kabul to monolithically represent an entire nation. So it is not without some self-deprecation that he offers his own strange and improbable adventures in the country's lawless stretches and perilous mountain passes. "I had in mind a quietly epic sort of journey," he explains. "I had given up on earlier and more ambitious schemes and was prepared to make an ally of uncertainty, with which luck so often finds a partnership." Humorous, honest and wry, a devotee of Afghanistan's culture, Elliot strives to debunk the myth of "the inscrutability of the East" and paint, in careful detail, a portrait of a deeply spiritual people. For a first-time author, his literary talents are exceptional. His sonorous prose moves forward with the purposeful grace of a river; it reads like a text unearthed from an ancient land. (Feb.) Forecast: Already lauded in England, this book announces the arrival of a major travel writer. It should capture the hearts of armchair travelers who long for the grace, wit and irreverence of an era long gone. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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