The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker

Read this review at Publishers Weekly

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Kim Barker, Doubleday, $25.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-385-53331-7

Barker, a journalist for ProPublica, offers a candid and darkly comic account of her eight years as an international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Afghanistan and Pakistan, beginning shortly after September 11. With self-deprecation and a keen eye for the absurd, Barker describes her evolution from a green, fill-in correspondent to an adrenaline junkie who gets hit on by Nawaz Sharif, former Pakistani prime minister, and becomes adept in “how to find money in a war zone, how to flatter a warlord, how to cover a suicide bombing, how to jump-start a car using a cord and a metal ladder.” Barker reveals how profoundly the U.S. continues to get Afghanistan wrong–that American personnel in the country live in a bubble, rarely dealing with Afghans, that they trample on local customs by getting routinely and “staggeringly” drunk despite Islam’s prohibition of alcohol, and throw offensive costume parties at the Department for International Development (DFID). In equal measure, Barker elucidates the deep political ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S.’s role in today’s “whiplash between secularism and extremism,” and blasts Pakistan’s leaders for destroying their nation through endless coups and power jockeying.

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Read this review at Publishers Weekly

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Little, Brown, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-01723-7

Rhodes-Pitts, an essayist and recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, takes as her title a 1948 essay wherein Ralph Ellison describes “nowhere” as the crossroads where personal reality meets the metaphorical meanings attached to people and places. A transplant to Harlem from Texas, Rhodes-Pitts began a personal journey into the iconic neighborhood, poring over Harlem in literature and life, reading its empty lots and street scenes, its billboards and memorials for clues to what it means to inhabit a dream (that fabled sanctuary for Black Americans) and a real place (the all too material neighborhood buckling beneath relentless gentrification). Acutely conscious of the writer’s simultaneous role of participant in and recorder of present and past, Rhodes-Pitts weaves a glittering living tapestry of snatches of overheard conversation, sidewalk chalk scribbles, want ads, unspoken social codes, literary analysis, studies of black slang–all if it held together with assurance and erudition. Like Zora Neale Hurston (whose contradictions she nails), she is “tour-guide and interpreter” of a Mecca cherished and feared, a place enduring and threatened that becomes home.