Friday, January 11, 2008

Not my three cups of tea

I remember a time, not so long ago really, perhaps last month, when I was blissfully unaware of a wayward mountaineer named Greg Mortenson. After nearly reaching the summit of K2, and having lost his porter and his way on the descent, he limped, hungry and cold, into a tiny town in northeast Pakistan called Korphe. After several days spent recovering from his misadventure, Greg Mortenson stumbled from the village leader’s hut into the rarefied Himalayan air.

I am only halfway through the book Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time which attempts to tell of Mortenson’s journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan, and his quest to build schools for impoverished children. A brave and noble mission no doubt.

I must say, however, that the book is the most poorly written of any I’ve read since my Fabio days. I imagine Mortenson’s adventure was dangerous and thrilling, likely rivaling fellow climber Jon Krakauer’s Everest adventure. Krakauer’s tale was a positively riveting account of the experience, and Into Thin Air remains one of my all-time favorite adventure stories. Three Cups of Tea, on the other hand, well, sucks. I say this not to be unkind, but because I am wondering how on earth it ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.

Here is but a small sample of the creamy pablum co-author David Oliver Relin dishes out:

…Why couldn’t the flag of crescent and star lead these children such a small distance toward “progress and perfection”?

After the last note of the anthem had faded, the children sat in a neat circle and began copying their multiplication tables. Most scratched in the dirt with sticks they’d brought for that purpose. The more fortunate…had slate boards they wrote on with sticks dipped in a mixture of mud and water. “Can you imagine a fourth-grade class in America, alone, without a teacher, sitting there quietly and working on their lessons?” Mortenson asks. “I felt like my heart was being torn out. There was a fierceness in their desire to learn, despite how mightily everything was stacked against them….I knew I had to do something.”

That something became a big something, and Greg Mortenson will share his story at Shove Chapel on January 15.

In Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson, besides being of impressive stature, a point made on every page of the book, is portrayed as little more than a socially stunted somewhat incompetent drifter. So how did this guy, who couldn’t find a decent ghost writer, suddenly become a master of self-promotion? A book tour, magazine covers, even promotional materials sent home in my child’s school backpack. It’s pretty amazing.

I am, as I said, only halfway through the book but I’ve not read anything about Mortenson’s mission of peace. Korphe’s village leader confided to him that, although he ran his fingers reverently over its pages, he couldn’t actually read his treasured Koran, and did not wish the same terrible fate on his children. Mortenson’s mission appears one of education and literacy. I found a copy of the book with a previous title, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations…One School at a Time. Vanquishing terrorism and nation building are the pet projects of neocons, aren’t they? I guess peace is easier to market.

A final note. Greg Mortenson’s lecture at Shove Chapel is sponsored by the UCCS Center for Homeland Security. I really don’t get the connection. I feel like this guy is an unwitting pawn in some greater game. What that game is I don’t know. So I’ll finish the book, go to the lecture, and see if I can connect the dots.


Lisa said...

Perhaps a better book along the same lines is Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

I'm in a writing class now and often wonder how some of the stuff on the bestseller list gets there (DaVinci Code is my favorite fiction example). Maybe I need to worry less and just write more : )

suesun said...

I'll see you there, perhaps, amidst what is sure to be a swarm of humanity, having not bothered to read the book. Hubby and I are going simply because he grew up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he's a mountaineer with dreams of a K2 summit, and I'm a teacher. Peace begins with education. Anything hopeful out of such an abused country, is, I suppose, something to celebrate.

Marie Walden said...

Sue, I completely agree that Mortenson's goal to educate the children is a noble one and, indeed, a key to peace. And I think the man himself is likely an amazing human being.

I can't help but feel that somehow someone with more complicated motives has co-opted Greg's mission and is behind the bestseller status and media blitz.

I hope to see you there!

Marie Walden said...

Lisa, I'll check out Leaving Microsoft. I held out for years before reading the DaVinci Code and, when I finally did, was shocked at how innocuous it was.

One difference between DaVinci and Three Cups of Tea? The latter would make an EXCELLENT movie. Let's hope a worthy director gets a hold of it!

Nancy said...

I didn't like THREE CUPS OF TEA, although Mortenson's effort may be a noble one. I'm skeptical. I did not like DA VINCI CODE. It was formulaic and rather embarassingly ridiculous. I'm in a reading drought and wandered into this sight hope hoping for titles of good books. The titles I've read recently have been distinctly unsatisfying. I'm starting to get fussy. I'm at the half way point and don't even think I'll finish ATONEMENT. It's beautifully written and crafted, but it doesn't move me. I can't make myself care about the characters.

Any suggestions?

I feel as if I'n writing to DEAR ABBY, and all I did was follow a couple of links. Oh, well. It never hurts to ask...

Lostcheerio said...

Interesting review. I featured it on the Litblogs group page on Blog365. :)

Lisa said...


Tiffani said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Marie, and reading my Bama piece. Did you guys ever decide which team to cheer for? :-)

Have a great day!

Marie Walden said...