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The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  694 ratings  ·  110 reviews
When Kim Barker first arrived in Kabul as a journalist in 2002, she barely owned a passport, spoke only English and had little idea how to do the “Taliban Shuffle” between Afghanistan and Pakistan. No matter—her stories about Islamic militants and shaky reconstruction were soon overshadowed by the bigger news in Iraq. But as she delved deeper into Pakistan and Afghanistan, ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Anchor (first published March 22nd 2011)
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Emilie Greenhalgh

This book is shallow, simply put. Full of somewhat amusing anecdotes about life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, anything deeper - details about the war, cultural interactions, having to witness death and destruction - falls flat. If she lived in these countries for so long and this is all she has to say about them, it makes me sad. She is funny, but not quite funny enough to make this anything ground-breaking. I currently live in Afghanistan, and see the expat debauchery in Kabul. As this seemed t
I read really good reviews of this book. It was on the Guernica Staff's "Best of" List. I generally enjoy books written by foreign correspondents. And so I really, really wanted to like it. That did not happen. This is possibly the worst book I have ever read by a journalist. The entire book reads like a high school diary with painfully unnecessary details of the author's personal/social life - Barker is almost unbelievably callow, self-obsessed, condescending and just plain ridiculous.

There is
I wanted to read this book because I thought it was going to give me a look into how people in Afghanistan and Pakistan viewed the war on terror while Barker from around when it started to when Barker left. There are occasional glimpses, far too few and far apart but that's not what the book is about. The book is really the autobiography of an extremely self-indulgent, entitled, arrogant journalist who is learning how to be a foreign correspondent. I found myself cringing more than once.

Near the
One of my writing professors once shared, "if I ask you to write about a tomato - yes, a tomato - and if instead, I come away knowing what you look like... Then you have failed."

It sounds remarkably silly, but coming from someone whose books won the National Book Critics Circle Award and were nominated for the Pulitzer, this was actually a serious lesson for beginner writers. When I talk about that moment now with fellow students from the class, we recognize, in hindsight, what was really being
My review from the Missoula Independent:

War is not supposed to be funny, and Middle East conflict is even less uproarious. Add to this the largest heroin and opium production center in the world and corruption leaking into the highest echelons of society, and you have a situation that is in no way amusing, let alone bearable. In Kim Barker's hands however, it is, somehow, hilarious. Scurrying back and forth between hotspots in Afghanistan and Pakistan to report for the Chicago Tribune (she spent
Tariq Mahmood
Afghanistan cannot be conquered actually means that Afghanistan cannot be governed and evidence can be glimpsed in this great book by a woman journalist over her time spent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The author has done a very good job of explaining her life as a White foreigner living an Afghan high, to a chaotic and confusing Pakistan to a monotonous India. Her clear favourite is Afghanistan which didn't surprise me as it provided the maximum kick for a war any junkie, followed by Pak ...more
Hmmm... Well, as many other reviewers have mentioned, this often feels more like a high school journal than good journalism. But (and this is a big but) if you read it more as an immature, entitled American woman's experience as a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan as opposed to reading it as a piece of journalism, then you're good to go and won't be too disappointed. Barker is often annoying, she's often a bit racist, she's an example of an ugly American in another country... It's good she' ...more
Karen C.
I managed to get through this book. I'm not sure I can quite put my finger on why it felt like a drag through Afghanistan and Pakistan. It should have been more exhilarating. Although the topic is interesting, the fact that the author is a journalist venturing to places that most of us would never go in a million years (unless we fancy a good groping and a dose of female repression and humiliation), the book just didn’t feel well organized and lacked clarity. Names were strewn around and I could ...more
Matt Heimer
I've been meaning to pick this book up ever since I saw it reviewed. Unfortunately, I've also been following the news from Afghanistan/Pakistan for all 204 years we've been at war there, and if you have, too, then (a) I feel sorry for you and (b) this book won't tell you anything you don't already know.

Barker saw some amazing things in her 6 years in AfPak, and she's genuinely funny. But she isn't really introspective enough to be a super-engaging memoirist -- or, to be more charitable, she pr
I first heard about this book because it was announced that Tina Fey had been cast as the lead in a potential movie version of this book, and the news reports about this book emphasized the comedic aspects of Barker's writing. The implication was that it was kind of a Devil Wears Prada situation in a war zone - a helplessly outmatched woman bungling around inexplicable situations in various comic ways - except slightly more serious.

There are some funny moments in the book - I particularly liked
Clever and insightful. We missed our window of opportunity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The region cannot be drug, kicking and screaming into the 21st century; it must first get to the 17th century

The author brings dark humor to a very unfunny situation. I like and appreciate that. Until and unless we really try and understand other cultures we will fail at International diplomacy
This was a fabulous book about the author, Kim Barker, traveling back and forth between Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region to report for the Chicago Tribune. She arrived in the area in 2003. In 2009, the Tribune decided to cut her position, as the newspaper business was/is in steep decline. Barker quit her job and spent some of her own money in order to stay over there and do freelance work for several publications. Barker gave me a better understanding of what was happening ...more
A journalists memoir of her work in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2004-2009.
It's an ok read overall. Not much insight really if you study or know much about the countries already.
The book felt like an outlet for the author to decompress from spending so much time in a crazy, surreal environment.
Overall I give it an "Ok" rating.
Muhammad Syed
A good attempt to uncover what went in Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. In my view it was a little prejudiced. The author seemed annoyed with Pakistan which I presume is attributed to Mr. Nawaz pesting her to be his friend.

She blamed Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks. At the time all indicators were pointing fingers at Pakistan but later on it proved that the attacks were scripted in India. Since she was an investigative journalist so she should have exercised caution and then revealed who was
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shawn Benjamin
This book is quite possibly the worst book I've read on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author's celebration and participation in the "separate but equal" status Western foreigners have given themselves in Kabul is repulsive. Additionally, let's not also forget the fact the author indirectly causes a soldier to lose a leg, and later reflects on how she feels kinda bad about it. The author should have really pitched this book to Cosmo, because it reads like something (I'm assuming) they would write ...more
Chris Ross
A decent book though more about Kim Barker and her life of living in a war zone, the adrenaline rush associated with living in a war zone, and finding herself (or how to get yourself nearly killed for several years) more so than a book about the Taliban or the Taliban shuffle.

This book is at times funny and Kim has a pretty good sense of humor though the book is more about her personal life, her personal demons, how to have a party and find a fuck buddy in Afghanistan or Pakistan than it is abo
Originally, I picked up Kim Barker’s wartime memoir The Taliban Shuffle after hearing rumors that it will soon be made into a movie starring Tina Fey with Martin Freeman as her love interest—two of my favourite comedy actors working together! I quickly found what attracted them to the material: the book is quirky, insightful, and illuminating, capturing what it was like to be a female journalist in very tense regions of the world. Barker’s account is a great combination of what was happening in ...more
IQ "I couldn't go back to Kabul. I had already graduated, after all, and everyone knows you can't go back to high school. Especially when that high school is a war zone, especially when that war zone is falling apart. I rationalized my decision: I could always go back for the class reunion, which if the past was any guide would be in another ten or twelve years, when history would probably repeat itself, when all the same players or their latest incarnations would start the dance again" (300)

I picked up this book after I heard that Tina Fey had optioned the film rights and plans to star in it. A divergent career choice for her, as the book is reminiscences of a war correspondent after five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was intrigued. I still think the movie has potential, but the book was only ok. I enjoyed Barker's journalistic writing style in the dispatches she's compiled here. Her eye for the absurd is keen, and leads to a narrative full of comedic moments, even if it is ...more
Jenny McPhee
Barker’s book unfolds during the years 2003-2009 and is a darkly funny, informative, and revelatory account of her trajectory while a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune from clueless cub war reporter to adrenaline-junkie South Asia bureau chief to overseasoned, burned-out hack. Her book lies somewhere in between Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook The World with Barker playing a 21st century version of wise-cracking, cynical, ace reporter Hildy Johnson from Howard Hawks’s ...more
During a reading at Powell’s Books in Portland on Friday, April 29, former Chicago Tribune journalist and author Kim Barker ironically opined that the British royal wedding that morning was “the most important international news story going right now.” At the time she meant to imply, rightly, that American audiences were ignoring the big stories – Yemen, the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, the escalating crisis in Syria, drug violence in Mexico, and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, si ...more
Jason Kirk Review: Kim Barker was The Chicago Tribune's South Asia Bureau Chief from 2004 to 2009, much of which she spent living in and reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban Shuffle comprises her recollections of these years, but make no mistake: this is not your parents' war correspondent's memoir. In fact, to hear this charismatic debut author tell of life in war-torn Kabul during these years, you'd think it was a more-or-less non-stop party. Journalism is famously known as a ...more

War correspondent Barker first started reporting from Afghanistan in 2003, when the war there was lazy and insignificant. She was just learning to navigate Afghan culture, one caught between warring factions, and struggling to get space in her newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Lulled into complacency, everyone from the U.S. military to the Afghan diplomatic corps to the Pakistani government stumbled as the Taliban regrouped. Very frank and honest, Barker admits a host of mistakes, including

Chris Demer
This is a memoir written by a foreign correspondent who spent several years in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the south Asian Bureau Chief at the Chicago Tribune. It is part memoir and part current events/politics about the region. At times poignant, funny, satirical and depressing in terms of the morass in those countries and the impossibility of achieving any real change. She talks about the down hill course of "democracy" in Afghanistan, a country of tribal warlords, corruption on a massive scal ...more

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
There is a lot of written literature available on the war being fought in Afghanistan. Literature in the form of books, essays and articles by prominent historians, journalists and other experts which are not only profound and insightful, but also give a detailed humanistic view of the battles being fought and lives being lost. Aptly named, Kim Barker's new book is a shuffle - a shuffle of her own personal travails during her time as a South Asia bureau chief (from 2004-09) for the Chicago Tribu ...more
The blurbs on the back of this book call it "hilarious," so perhaps my expectations were too high. The opening pages are a bit humorous, as Barker pokes fun at her naivete visiting a warlord whose son has been recently killed by the U.S. But I put it down after seven chapters, because it felt exploitive. Barker's a journalist for The Chicago Tribune, who has assigned her to India. Yet she keeps returning to Afghanistan because she wants to be where she thinks the action is. Desperately trying to ...more
Kim Barker was sent to Afghanistan as a very green, young reporter--selected for this role in part because she was female and had no kids/no attachments at home. Her interview with her 'first warlord' is more of a personal photo op than a great story for her newspaper, the Chicago Tribune ("...Male ethnic Pashtuns loved flowers and black eyeliner and anything fluorescent or sparkly, maybe to make up for the beige terrain that stretched forever in Afghanistan, maybe to look pretty..." "The decora ...more
Very nice story of a reporter to the Chicago Tribune who chooses to join the Mumbai South Asian desk rather than get married. Kim Barker lands in Afghanistan shortly after the American invasion lin 2002, 2003 when the numbers of soldiers is sparse and not able to do a good job rebuilding the country. The US invades Iraq and most reporters and soldiers wish they were there. Kim learns the wartime journalist life while her newspaper slowly dissolves into bankruptcy. She deals with Afghan life and ...more
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After six years as a reporter in Washington state, first for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane and then for the Seattle Times, Kim Barker joined the Chicago Tribune in 2001. She served as the South Asia bureau chief from 2004 to 2009 before being awarded the Council on Foreign Relations Edward R. Murrow press fellowship. Barker is currently a reporter at ProPublica and lives in New York City."
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“Sabit was his own worst enemy. He had earlier given a TV interview where he had called one of the top religious men in the country a 'donkey pussy,' a common epithet in Afghanistan. Tolo started playing the clip of Sabit saying 'donkey pussy' incessantly - inserting it into the satirical TV show Danger Bell.” 1 likes
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