Three Cups of Tea: a review

This was truly an awe-inspiring book. It is brilliantly written and well researched and honestly tells the true story of how one man managed to overcome so many hurdles in order to build schools in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The sub-title is: “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School At a Time”.

It is a story that brought me to tears on quite a few occasions as Greg Mortenson, the shy American mountain climber, tried and failed to climb K2, the world’s second highest peak in the Himalayas, became detached from his climbing party and wandered into a village, Korphe, in Northern Pakistan. Here he was nursed back to health after being on the point of collapse and maybe death.

It was in Korphe that we meet one of the most fascinating characters that Mortenson was to meet over the years in his many visits to the Karakoram range of mountains, Haja Ali. There is a wonderful picture in the book of this man, old, grey bearded, wearing a fur cap and an old leather jerkin and jacket with only some keys around his neck as adornment. He looks poor and is certainly uneducated.. but he is without doubt worldly wise and became Mortenson’s mentor.

Mortenson left the village of Korphe with a promise to return and build a school as thanks for what the village had done to get him back on his feet after his failed attempt to climb K2 (which he had attempted as a tribute to his late sister Crista who had died of a brain seizure at the age of 23 having fought illness throughout her brief life).

Many climbers are helped by the inhabitants of the mountain ranges and some, like the famous Sir Edmund Hillary, do return and contribute to the welfare and development of the areas that have helped them and maybe build schools and hospitals but many promise that they will and never return… Mortenson is very much a man who keeps his promises.

He went back to the U.S.A. and faced personal deprivation and vast problems in getting any sort of help to build the school he had promised Haja Ali. Yet fate was to take a hand in the shape of an eccentric genius by the name of Jean Hoerni, who had made millions in the development of semi-conductor transistors that would eventually lead to the digital revolution we find ourselves in now.

Hoerni almost single handed financed Mortenson’s first school building enterprise. The school at Korphe did not get built easily. In the book we follow the many problems that Mortenson faced in getting it built… but it did get built and was to be the first of over 130 now built in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In this book we get to know much about the character of the people who live in these often inhospitable and dangerous mountain areas. We get to understand their way of life and also their religion, Islam. We also get a really good insight into the realities of the war in Afghanistan. I found the last chapter, which concentrated on Mortenson’s work in Afghanistan, post 9/11 to be particularly insightful about what could have been done by the Americans to produce a long term solution and what wasn’t done.

Mortenson is a great man and a deep humanitarian. He has been suggested as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and I can think of no-one that I know of that deserves it more. I think that this is a book which educates, enlightens, makes you think about your own existence and question what needs to be done in order to help parts of the world like Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan to truly overcome some of their problems of poverty and war.

Mortenson argues that the answer to the deep seated problems lies in education and not war. He has a deep desire to promote girl’s education as he follows the old African idea that if you educate a boy you educate one person but if you educate a girl you educate the whole village.

I found the scene towards the end of the book where Jahan, who is the first educated woman from the Braldu Valley in the Skardu area of Baltistan demands that Mortenson give her money so that she can continue her education and “become someone in the world” very moving. It only reflects my own ideas about the untapped potential for our species (humans) that lies wasted due to a lack of education.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this is truly a moving and brilliantly written book (which means that reviewers should give due praise to David Oliver Relin, the co-writer of the book who wrote most of it.  Mortenson of course told him the amazing story in graphic detail).

A review cannot do real justice to the book… it needs you, the reader of this review, to go and get hold of a copy and read it…. there have been few books in my life that have effected me so much, I feel sure that you may well feel the same.

At the end of the book David Oliver Relin says the following in his part of the acknowledgements:

If “Three Cups of Tea” inspires you to do more here are suggestions for how to help:

1. Visit the website www.threecupsoftea.com for more book reviews, events and ideas.

2. Suggest “Three Cups of Tea” to a friend, colleague, book club, women’s group, church, civic group, synagogue, mosque university or high school class or a group interested in education, literacy, adventure, cross-cultural issues, Islam, Pakistan or Afghanistan

3. Check to see if “Three Cups of Tea” is in your library.. if not order it or, if you can afford it, donate a copy so that others who may not be able to afford to, can read it.

4. Encourage your local independent or chain bookstore to carry the book.

5. Write a “Three Cups of Tea” book review for Amazon or for your blog.

6. Mortenson started a charity to support his work called “Pennies For Peace” that I have written about in an earlier post in this blog. If you are interested  see:  http://malbell.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/greg-mortenson-pennies-for-peace/

I have done my little bit to support the great work that Greg Mortenson is continuing to do and have written my review of a really wonderful book  and hope that you have enjoyed reading it. If you can get involved or are interested in any of the other suggestions that would be appreciated by the authors and also the children of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan whose lives have been changed because of Greg Mortenson.

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