The Taliban Shuffle
Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
By Kim Barker
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385533317, 320pp.)
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
List Price: $25.95*
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A true-life Catch-22 set in the deeply dysfunctional countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by one of the region’s longest-serving correspondents.
Kim Barker is not your typical, impassive foreign correspondent—she is candid, self-deprecating, laugh-out-loud funny. At first an awkward newbie in Afghanistan, she grows into a wisecracking, seasoned reporter with grave concerns about our ability to win hearts and minds in the region. In The Taliban Shuffle, Barker offers an insider’s account of the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, chronicling the years after America’s initial routing of the Taliban, when we failed to finish the job.
When Barker arrives in Kabul, foreign aid is at a record low, electricity is a pipe dream, and of the few remaining foreign troops, some aren’t allowed out after dark. Meanwhile, in the vacuum left by the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban is regrouping as the Afghan and Pakistani governments flounder. Barker watches Afghan police recruits make a travesty of practice drills and observes the disorienting turnover of diplomatic staff. She is pursued romantically by the former prime minister of Pakistan and sees adrenaline-fueled colleagues disappear into the clutches of the Taliban. And as her love for these hapless countries grows, her hopes for their stability and security fade.
Swift, funny, and wholly original, The Taliban Shuffle unforgettably captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a war zone.
KIM BARKER joined the Chicago Tribune in 2001 and was South Asia bureau chief from 2004 to 2009. She currently holds the prestigious Edward R. Murrow press fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. She lives in New York City.
Praise for The Taliban Shuffle
“What’s remarkable about The Taliban Shuffle is that its author, Kim Barker, has written an account of her experiences covering Afghanistan and Pakistan that manages to be hilarious and harrowing, witty and illuminating, all at the same time… Ms. Barker has discovered a voice in these pages that enables her to capture both the serious and the seriously absurd conditions in Af-Pak (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and the surreal deal of being a female reporter there, with dating problems ranging from the screwball (a boyfriend competing to cover the same story) to the ridiculous (being romantically pursued by the former prime minister of Pakistan). Black humor, it turns out, is a perfect tool for capturing the sad-awful-frequently-insane incongruities of war. The Taliban Shuffle, in fact, reads like a rollicking and revealing mashup of Imperial Life in the Emerald City (Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s devastating 2006 portrait of the unreal world of Iraq’s Green Zone), War Reporting for Cowards (Chris Ayres’s entertaining 2005 account of being a newbie war reporter for The Times of London) and Robert Altman’s darkly satiric 1970 movie MASH, with a bit of Evelyn Waugh-esque satiric verve thrown in for good measure.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“The Taliban Shuffle is part war memoir, part tale of self-discovery that, thanks to Barker's biting honesty and wry wit, manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking.”
—The Chicago Tribune
"Brilliant, tender, and unexpectedly hilarious."
"[An] immensely entertaining memoir."
—The Boston Globe
“Irresistibly spunky….Barker’s memoir is what you’d hear if the reporter never turned off the voice recorder between interviews—brilliant firsthand outtakes that wind up telling us more about the Afghan debacle than any foreign policy briefing.”
—The Seattle Times
"Politically astute and clearly influenced by Hunter S. Thompson, Barker provides sharp commentary on the impotence of American foreign policy in South Asia… Fierce, funny and unflinchingly honest.”
“A candid and darkly comic account of her eight years as an international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune…With self-deprecation and a keen eye for the absurd, Barker describes her evolution from a green, fill-in correspondent to an adrenaline junkie… 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.”
"Reporter Kim Barker immersed herself in Afghanistan and Pakistan for nine years and returned with stories that poignantly reflect her deep love for both countries—and important insights into what went wrong. With dark, self-deprecating humor and shrewd insight, Barker chronicles her experiences as a rookie foreign reporter and the critical years in which the Taliban resurged amidst the collapse of the Afghan and Pakistani governments."
—The Daily Beast
"Kim Barker's memoir about her five years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Chicago Tribune is brave, funny and outrageous....The Taliban Shuffle will pull you in so deep that you’ll smell the poppies and quake from the bombs."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Read this and try not to hurt yourself laughing. Who knew war could be so funny? The Taliban Shuffle isn’t like any other book out there about Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s witty, brilliant, and impossible to put down. Think P. J. O’Rourke meets Paul Theroux. Kim Barker is a gifted storyteller, and her intrepid, sometimes wacky travels through these two strife-torn nations will leave you informed, amused, and—depending on your sense of adventure—wanting to tag along on her next trip.”
—Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone
“The Taliban Shuffle is Scoop meets Dispatches, remixed with a twenty-first-century Bollywood soundtrack. Laugh-out-loud funny, it is the true story of what it is like to be a female journalist in one of the world's most exotic war zones, while telling the reader much about what is really going on today in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
—Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden and The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
“Yes, there are bombs. And there is carnage. And all sorts of mayhem. But mostly there are people, human beings even, with appetites—for life, for adventure, for riches, for love. Ms. Barker offers this world—the human world caught in the crosshairs of history—with a vitality rarely seen in accounts of the war. A compelling read that offers readers a glimpse of the goings-on behind the byline.”
—J. Maarten Troost, author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals
“Kim Barker gives a true and amusing picture of hellholes and the reporters on assignment in them. But she breaks the journo code of silence and reveals a trade secret of the hacks who cover hellholes: The hell of the holes is that they’re kind of fun.”
—P. J. O'Rourke