An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  980 ratings  ·  79 reviews
Part historical evocation, part travelogue, and part personal quest, An Unexpected Light is the account of Elliot's journey through Afghanistan, a country considered off-limits to travelers for twenty years. Aware of the risks involved, but determined to explore what he could of the Afghan people and culture, Elliot leaves the relative security of Kabul. He travels by foot...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published November 17th 2001 by Picador (first published 1999)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about An Unexpected Light, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about An Unexpected Light

The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakLife of Pi by Yann Martel
Foreign Lands
128th out of 1,143 books — 1,130 voters
The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThree Cups of Tea by Greg MortensonKim by Rudyard KiplingSikander by M. Salahuddin Khan
Books Set in the -stan Countries
12th out of 111 books — 79 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Maureen
Apr 18, 2009 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: afghanistan
This is a beautifully written, detailed account of the time Jason Elliot spent in Afghanistan. Between the first and second trips, the Mujaheddin won the battle against the Soviets, and thngs went from bad to worse. Only someone with his talents and connections could have safely made this trip. With his mother's facility for languages and his father's connections to the Afghan Muslim community, he had a head start. I met Jason shortly after his first trip to Afghanistan, and he was full of stori...more
Lorraine
This book is what started my fascination with the middle east, especially Afghanistan. It is a panoramic view, well-written and searching,. As a male, Elliot had the freedom to travel freely, which women in that culture would be denied, so we see from a different perspective. He finds himself in real danger at time, has more reflective moments, tells and receives stories, finds comrades along the way. His travels are as much personal quest as historical research and this adds extra depth and ric...more
Ron
This book is a gem. The author's prose style is elegantly suited to his subject matter, capturing the wonderful complexities and nuances of Afghanistan's breathtaking physical terrain and its people, whether in urban Kabul, its remote regional centers, or its far-flung mountain villages, and all in the aftermath of the disastrous Russian occupation. Meanwhile, it is the 1990s, and civil warfare continues as the Kabul government resists the increasing military pressure from Taliban forces.

The jou...more
Bibliophile
I never felt that Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light lived up to its glowing reviews by authors whom I love (e.g. William Dalrymple). For one thing, for a book that's a hybrid memoir-travelogue, Elliot never really explained why he was so fascinated by Afghanistan in the first place that he went to fight in the war against in the Russians. He was nineteen years old the first time he visited Afghanistan, but ... fighting in someone else's war (and nearly dying) certainly requires some sort of exp...more
Joseph Gendron
Wow. What a surprise this book was. Jason Elliot is quite a writer and this book is full of wonder, adventure and humanity. It has much to share on the history and culture of an area of the world that is America's current quagmire. Jason traveled alone and his remarkable adventures were a balm for this currently office and duty bound traveler. The title of the book speaks directly to the spirit of the people of Afganistan he experienced. He writes "Alone again and writing up the days events by c...more
Naeem
On page 471, Elliot reveals his personal challenge: how to be still in the face of experience so that the task of keen observation is funneled neither towards a previously used emotion, nor directed towards an abstracted intellectual exercise. His goal is to "fashion some intermediary vessel in which to bear the raw impressions of life..."so that he can experience "a sort of stretching, a deepening of one's ability to stand up to life and absorb it as it happens."

Elliot thereby himself gives us...more
Harry Hunter
Although it took a while to adjust to the slow pace Elliot’s narrative is gripping and vividly brings the people and places he meets and visits to life. His description of the heart pounding truck journey in the north-east was particularly gripping, with the imagery of the precarious route far above the white torrents in the valley below staying with me long after I’d put the book down. However I have skipped through several of Elliot’s essay like asides (the section on the roots of Dervish beli...more
Patty
Well-written travel book set in war-torn Afghanistan about two decades ago. I found myself distracted by my awareness of what would come next, or for us, what is happening there now. Yet in some ways, it's too recent to be called a "historical" travel book. One of those books I will have to read again someday to appreciate further, I guess. Though it is amazing the pieces of earth that have been fought over for centuries with little resolution, and the fortitude of those who try to make a life i...more
Chloe
A fascinating look at a war-torn country during one of the few years of peace that Afghanistan has had in the past 30+ years. Elliot shows the true soul of Afghanistan, not the repressive fundamentalist boogieman of most American's nightmares, but a loving and caring people with a fierce determination to survive against the worst odds. One of my favorite works of travel literature.
Andrea Homier
This is a long book and the pace is by foot -- not jet, so it's a slow read. If you adjust to the pace (I read it recovering from surgery), it's a great read with good writing, adventure, history, and personal growth and philosophy. Much more than I expected and a treasure.
Sphinx Feathers
This is one of my favorite travel books because not only is it well-written and filled with a quiet beauty, but it's filled with facts. I love a writer who can express himself and present himself in an intelligent manor. This is another book which I end up giving away often.
Helen
astounding. After reading Rory Stewart's book about walking across Afghanistan I read this one and preferred it. Beautiful sketches of the mujahideen, Sufism, traveling, the aid community, the war, etc.
Paul
A lyrical and poetic travel book. It is beautifully written and you understand how he immersed himself in the country
Nancy
I loved this book because I spent time in Afghanistan in 1973. Jason Elliot was born in 1975 and spent time in Afghanistan in 1994 when he was 19 and 2004 when he was 29. I was 18 when I was in Afghanistan. I was there the year before the King was deposed and the political climate totally changed.

What I loved about this book is the fact that by reading Jason Elliot's take so many years later, I realize and appreciate the fact that I really got Afghanistan as an 18 year old. So much of what he se...more
Radiah
It was almost with a heavy heart that I finished the last chapter in Jason Elliot’s “An Unexpected Light”. This is one of few books I’ve read where I truly felt like the author’s travelling companion. Mr. Elliot is certainly gifted. He weaves together the sights and sounds of Afghanistan together with history, both ancient and recent, and encounters with the fiercely independent people.

Afghanistan has long been a fascination for me having always been portrayed in the news as a violent locale, su...more
Emilie Greenhalgh


This book had some outstanding moments that I eagerly read and sections that I practically skipped. That being said, it has something for everyone as it combines well-researched historical explanations with personal, reflective anecdotes, musings on religion and culture, and vivid descriptions of the Afghan countryside. The latter I often felt bordered on too much (I tend to prefer a starker Hemingway description...get to the point!) and I sometimes wondered how many metaphors could be on one p...more
S.B.
Feb 18, 2013 S.B. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: N.
I remember from a delirium of fatigue collapsing against a rocky mound that turned out to be a camel, and an old man bringing me tea and pressing fragments of bread from his hand into mine with a muttered blessing.

Personally, I can't even figure out how to get to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe not even to nearest state. And with no real interest in world travel, I have no idea why I picked this up. Sure, it has that distasteful stink of an Englishman in the East and some truly awful metaphors, but...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
This started out great because I was very interested in reading about Afghanistan, especially the Afghanistan that existed before the war we are currently fighting there. The people and how Elliot describes them is the best part - he has a genuine affection and admiration for the Afghan people and backs it up with stories of their kindness. Ultimately, however, the book is bogged down by the author's less than riveting account of every single thing he did while he was there, and it becomes tedio...more
Coyner Kelley
I first read this in 2001. Politics and Prose compiled a list of reading on Iraq and Afghanistan and I dug in. I needed to catch up on reading about the Middle East and had no grounding at all in the history, geography, or politics .... of Afghanistan. I read it at a time when I was acutely aware of the light in an unfamiliar. I had moved South of the Equator and was struck but spring light in November and autumnal light in March. I reread this again in 2011 after reading a couple of memoirs of...more
Christopher
I came to this book via "The Places in Between" by Rory Stewart and "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" by Eric Newby.

Both of the above earned a five star rating, as they were excellent in every way.

Whilst Mr Elliot's writing is very good, it is too self indulgent to be considered as the best example in the field.

Nevertheless, the story is a fascinating one - from fighting against the Russians with the mujahaddin to meeting the Taleban as they were taking Afghanistan.

His travels are certainly worth...more
Amanda
There's a lot here, and it's kind of a haul to get through: he jumps back and forth between his experiences at the time, his past experiences, history, stories...his knowledge of Afghanistan's history and culture is tremendous, and this book gives you a taste of that.

There's also something really deeply sad about reading this book - published in 1999 - with the knowledge of what has happened to, and in, Afghanistan since then. He ends the novel on this sort-of hopeful note - things have been bad...more
Marla
Stunning. I loved every word. To say that this is a travelogue of a man who made several trips to Afghanistan from the 70's to just prior to the Taliban occupation of Kabul, would be a mistake. It's a story about the Afghanistan people; about their incredible hospitality and resilient spirit. I saw every line on every old man's face, heard the call to prayer, smelled every kebab he ate and froze my butt off in the mountains. It's as close to Afghanistan as any of us is going to get anytime soon....more
Sharm Alagaratnam
Despite the runaway success of Khaled Hosseini's books, Afghanistan seems to be a difficult country to get to know. Jason Elliot gave me a rare glimpse into the country last year with his book, 'An Unexpected Light'. He travelled there twice, recently and once in the early 80's (to fight with the mujahidin!). His description of Afghans he got to know and met are loving testimony to a people who have seen so much in a very short time (and continue to). His prose describing the landscapes were a l...more
Jaime
A beautiful book. Not a quick read, but then, it shouldn't be, as the author literally recounts his footsteps across Afghanistan. What I love best is Elliot's obvious and genuine affection for the Afghan people, and I love the way his respect for their history and way of life shines even as his spirit is darkened by a great sadness at the ravages they have suffered. And I love lines like this one: "Kabul is a mountain-ringed history book written in the faces of its people."
Elena
Another of my favorite travel books. Elliot has an incredible gift with bringing the reader into the journey. I sometimes felt I was eating from the same shared bowl at a roadside food stand in the middle of some of the remotest parts of Afghanistan. Elliot's love and appreciation for the people and culture of Afghanistan also makes this book stand out. He introduced me to the people of Afghanistan in the most genuine and unexpected way.
Matt Brant
At 450 sometimes slow-moving pages it is a blend of history, travel narrative, and personal story. Elliott is a good writer, if not a brilliantly clever one like Jonathan Raban. Elliott balances the images of Afghanistan as war-ravaged hell-hole and modern vibrant culture with hospital decent people. Plus, he is a traveler who can talk enough of the local talk to have conversations with all kinds of people, which lends a lot of credibility.
Justjenny
Probaably my second favorite book. It's interesting now that I think about it that my two favorite travel books - this and Hemingway's "True at First Light" - both have light in the title. Anyway, Elliot's journey through a shattered country is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. There's so much beauty in the world that I'll never see - but I'm at least grateful that I can read about it.
Fergus Kane
It's a while since I read this book.. I can remember being surprised, inspired and informed when reading this it, which resulted in an as yet unfulfilled desire to visit the country. Together with similar books such as 'The Sewing Circles of Herat', this book helps show other sides of Afghanistan, which are totally missing from the normal narrative we receive through newspapers and TV.
Connie
Loved traveling in Afghanistan and loved the opportunity to revisit it with Jason Elliot.
Kathleen McRae
This was a musing meandering tale of a journey both metaphorical and physical made by the writer as a young man of 19 and then 10 years on.I found some of it rather rambling and difficult to tell where the author was coming from or going while other parts were more lucid.the author did pass on in a haphazard fashion Afghanistan's crippling history
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Carpet Wars: From Kabul to Baghdad: A Ten-Year Journey Along Ancient Trade Routes
  • The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban
  • The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
  • Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
  • The Storyteller's Daughter: One Woman's Return to Her Lost Homeland
  • Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China
  • The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
  • News From Tartary
  • Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
  • A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan
  • The Road to Oxiana
  • Arabian Sands (Penguin Travel Library)
  • Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus
  • Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia
  • Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan
  • Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran
  • A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran The Network Religions Of The World Big Wonders Of The World

Share This Book