Cannonball Read 2: Book 9: Take Me Back to Afghanistan by Said Hyder Akbar and Susan Burton

Still playing catchup with the reviews. This one's the last from November, then we hit the December batch. Joy.

I'm not opposed to memoirs. I've experienced some that are rather engaging. Part of what draws me into a memoir is the quality of writing. It seems in many cases a good story can somehow trump the ability to craft a convincing narrative. But that's what a good ghostwriter/co-writer is for, right?

Come Back to Afghanistanby Said Hyder Akbar and Susan Burton, the aforementioned book fixer if you will, should be a compelling read. This is a first person look into the reconstruction of Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Akbar's father worked directly under current president Hamid Karzai as the nation building began. Indeed, there are many intriguing moments. The one that sticks out the most to me is Akbar noticing a man with no credentials constantly in the building interacting with politicians, taking notes, and making phone calls. When someone finally confronts the man, they realize he had no authority to be in the building and may have been spying for a terrorist organization. That's unsettling.

My big problem with the book is the quality of the writing. I respect Burton for trying to capture Akbar's voice as best as she could, but I feel like Akbar doesn't have much of a voice. His knowledge and insight is fascinating, but how it's presented is not. Everything is a simple matter of fact. As far as I can recall, there are no subtleties in the text. If Akbar's going to talk about road construction funding being diverted to Al-Queda to ensure the safety of the construction workers and locals, he will talk about road construction funds. His personal experience and reaction is almost a moot point in the book. These are some of the more engaging moments of the book. I had fun reading about his apprehension riding on a luggage carousel to get into an airport under the suggestion of people authorized to grant him access. When talking about his personal political heroes in Afghanistan, I feel like I could really like him. Come Back to Afghanistan just doesn't focus on those great personal moments.

I almost feel like Akbar had the opportunity to write this book too soon. Maybe with a few more years to reflect on his experiences, this could have been a powerful read. As it stands, the book offers insight into a tumultuous political situation and not much else. It's educational for certain, but very dull.

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