Matthew's Reviews > To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelogue

To Afghanistan and Back by Ted Rall
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's review
Jun 07, 12

bookshelves: graphic-novel, history-afghanistan
Read in January, 2003

This book by Ted Rall, comics artist (“Tom Tomorrow”) and journalist (The Village Voice) records his experiences in Afghanistan during the U.S. bombing aimed to overthrow the Taliban. (He left for Afghanistan pretty much as soon as the air war started.) As Rall has frequently visited and commented on Central Asia, the book is not as odd as it sounds. It includes columns he wrote for The Village Voice, photographs, and a graphic novel. The organization of the book suffers, as the editor did not blend well the columns and the graphic novel and thus they are often redundant. Nonetheless the book does provide some interesting vignettes about war journalism as seen by someone who really is not one, such as the struggles to find food, shelter, electricity for equipment, transportation, and translation services while at the same time trying not to get one’s throat slit by the facilitators of those things, as well as odd insights into the nature of the Afghan conflict and the Mad-Max-life style that has developed in the perpetually war-torn Afghanistan (people physically switching sides, sometimes daily, and mentally flipping between embracing the fundamentalism of the Taliban and the “modern” shaved faces, pop music, and porn on DVD life that appeared overnight in Northern Alliance areas). Rall posits the war was actually more about a Central Asia oil pipeline than overthrowing the Taliban and hunting Osama bin Laden, a thesis that has been presented far better elsewhere, but does not really make his case as he does not provide enough background. Nonetheless, the book like Joe Sacco's comics-style accounts of life in Palestine and Bosnia, is worth reading as it puts humanity, with both its good and bad aspects, back into a story that has for the most part been told through geopolitics and/or ideology.
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