Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
(The Taliban Shuffle MTI): Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
By Kim Barker
*This book contains mild language
Now a Major Motion Picture titled Whiskey Tango Foxtrot starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, and Billy Bob Thornton.
From tea with warlords in the countryside to parties with drunken foreign correspondents in the “dry” city of Kabul, journalist Kim Barker captures the humor and heartbreak of life in post-9/11 Afghanistan and Pakistan in this profound and darkly comic memoir. As Barker grows from awkward newbie to seasoned reporter, she offers an insider’s account of the region’s “forgotten war” at a time when all eyes were turned to Iraq. Candid, self-deprecating, and laugh-out-loud funny, Barker shares both her affection for the absurdities of these two hapless countries and her fear for their future stability.
BUY THIS BOOK:
Kim Barker’s memoir of her experiences reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan is nothing short of remarkable. I admit to feeling skeptical that this memoir could be anything other than depressing, considering the source material and the locations, but the author was able to transfer her love of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the people who reside there, and various aspects of the culture to the pages of this book with some biting sarcasm, engaging dialogue, and laugh-out-loud humor.
I’ll call myself out in this review and confess that my understanding of the politics involved in the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan or even Iraq is paltry at best; a subject I felt unable to dig into or decipher simply because I didn’t feel I could trust our politicians or the media to tell the truth in regards to our motives for placing soldiers in these countries. I didn’t think anyone would willingly share why this undertaking has had so much fall-out. Even though this memoir is no doubt the Reader’s Digest version of several years’ worth of information, experience, and research, it still manages to give the reader an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of these countries’ politics, cultural and religious codes they operate under, and the roots of their dysfunction in a way that informs and entertains rather than leaves one bored and slightly comatose, like a high school freshman might feel in the middle of an endless history lecture.
Kim’s own personal journey throughout the book is filled with self-deprecating humor and self-discovery. She may not suffer fools lightly, but she also recognizes when her own foolishness manages to rear its ugly head. She doesn’t give herself a way to bow out of that, especially in her failed relationships; managing to own up to the fact that she was also at fault. Her love affair and addiction to her career takes precedence over anything else. It took some time to essentially break-up with that adrenaline infused lifestyle and recognize that her situation had become unhealthy and dangerous; a difficult decision to make, but one that probably saved her life. I’m amazed she was able to do it, considering how much purpose she found in her career and how much she loved these war-ridden countries. It was a journey of riveting self-discovery.
Another aspect of this book that I found so interesting was Kim’s ability to compartmentalize her dangerous, heartbreaking, and often traumatic experiences with an emotional disconnect that enabled her to continue on with her job. This defense mechanism isn’t an unusual path that our minds take in situations like this, but it is unusual for an author to give the reader that option as well. Many times throughout the book, I found that the narrative allowed for some emotional distance due to the humor and matter-of-fact way in which Kim described events and her reactions to these events. Her fear, pain, and heartache at the loss of so many friends and relationships was palpable and presented for the reader to examine and experience, but it was delivered with some cushion, giving the reader the out they needed to emotionally pull back if they so desired. There were times when I knew Kim’s situation was much more dangerous and harrowing than the narrative warranted, and I was ready to go into panic mode on her behalf, and many times I did. Other times, I held on to that bullet proof vest she so kindly offered and protected my emotions from the onslaught.
I have no idea how she managed that so beautifully, but she did it. I understood the magnitude of this story, but I didn’t have to leave the book so emotionally wrung out that I couldn’t function…not that I’ve ever done that before. Ahem.
In conclusion, this memoir is more than remarkable, it’s memorable; something readers will continue to think about and examine long after the last page has been read. I highly recommend it to all memoir lovers out there and to anyone who yearns for a little more enlightenment in respect to the troubling conflicts overseas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
For almost five years, Kim Barker was the South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, directing coverage of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. She covered natural disasters like the tsunami in Asia and the earthquake in Kashmir. She tracked manmade disasters — the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the corruption in Afghanistan, the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Through all of it, she tried to keep her sense of humor. After the Tribune decided to cut back on foreign coverage, Barker quit in April 2009 to write “The Taliban Shuffle” and become the Edward R. Murrow fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She freelanced for Foreign Affairs, The Daily Beast, Reader’s Digest and The Atlantic. Barker, who previously worked at The Seattle Times and the Spokane Spokesman-Review, is now a general-assignment reporter at ProPublica working on enterprise and investigative stories.
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