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An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,684 ratings  ·  110 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
Paperback, 473 pages
Published September 30th 2001 by Picador USA (first published 1999)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  1,684 ratings  ·  110 reviews

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Jul 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, favorites
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
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
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
May 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Loved traveling in Afghanistan and loved the opportunity to revisit it with Jason Elliot.
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Joseph Gendron
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A lyrical and poetic travel book. It is beautifully written and you understand how he immersed himself in the country
Sphinx Feathers
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, geography, culture
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.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An enchanting book overall.

If one wants to get back before 9/11, and dispel myths that many Americans had even then, let alone after Sept. 11, about many Afghans, this is a very good starting place. Elliot notes that most of them despised the Taliban but also lived in fear as they expanded their territory.

Elliot also does a good job of describing the mishmash of ethnicities and ancient empire remnants that complicate Afghanistan's history to this day. In fact, reading between the lines, one can
Harry Hunter
Jun 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Trisha Burke
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite reads of all time. Richly edifying, beautifully told account of years of occupation, war, and tribal unrest in the harsh but soulful place that is Afghanistan. I literally cried at the end of the journey.
Jenn Williamson
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly written. Elliot weaves a tale using the complexities of war and the simplicity of humanity. This literary journey fascinated me and left me curious about a country I had so ignorantly misjudged.
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable travel book. It was written in 1999, as the Taliban was attempting to extend its control over Afghanistan, still not in control of Kabul, but in power in the south of the country and battling for control of the territory around Herat. One has to marvel at the courage and audacity of the author, who travels to Kabul, throughout the north of the country and to Herat, most of the time on his own. He relies on the goodwill of the Afghans, with whom he is, obviously, particularly ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, afghanistan
Jason Elliot had an interest in visiting Afghanistan and found a way to enter the country. Several years later he desired to go back and spent a number of months traveling the country alone. This second trip was taken with the idea of writing a book about the country and the people. The book jacket calls this “part travelogue, part historical evocation, part personal quest and part reflection on the joys and perils of passage.” The actual travel sections were interesting as well as the people he ...more
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Andrea Homier
May 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: personal-library
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.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This is well-written. It seemed disjointed and wandering, as if the author wasn’t clear on what he wanted to accomplish. A similar book that I enjoyed more is “The Places in Between”.
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Elliot traveled in Afghanistan on two separate occasions. As a 19 year old young man he traveled with the mujahidin during the war with the USSR and then returned 10 years later. The nation was at war in both instances, because even in his later trip he was dodging Taliban rockets in Kabul. It is clear that the author has a great admiration for the people of this war torn land, and he is awed by the beauty of its mountainous landscape. Most of the narrative deals with his travels, which are cert ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Truly luminous travelogue of pre-9/11 Afghanistan under the Taliban. He writes eloquently, but I was sad he didn't give the poor old man his winter coat. I did while there post-9/11 - several times, I gave my coats away, but I could always buy new ones. That's a very small part of this book. It's worth reading.
Rogue Reader
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was uncomfortable reading of Elliot's travels in Afghanistan. The word "travel" trivializes the nature of that war torn country, the death and desperation he sees. Elliot's narrative is similar to the old colonial accounts of foreign lands: observant and dispassionate. Published in 1999 when the opposing forces are Soviet and other Afghani tribes.
Peter Medway
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
At the time of reading I lived In Afghanistan and was hoovering up anything I could lay my hands on about the country. I recall this being a rather insipid and self indulgent, semi literary work that didn’t cut it for me.
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love when I find a book that I simply cannot put down. A book that I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve read the last sentences. It lingered with me for days.
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent writing. Great narrative of the Afghan culture and people.
Sally Edsall
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very readable, and a good accompaniment / antidote to the stauration (and stereotypical) media coverage of events in Afghanistan in recent times.

The parts that interest me most are the cultural observations - the "humanising" of a people who are otherwise seen as exotic, unfathomable 'others'. I was fascinated by the observations and experiences Elliot has with the very severe and serious looking Afghans in front of the camera, and the warmth and hospitality and cheerfulness he encounters.

It was
This is what I wrote when I was about a quarter into it:
An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot. It was published in 1999 when the Taliban was first coming into power. It is interesting, although it is sort of the hunky-dory version of his trip across Afghanistan by foot, horse, truck. He has a guide for some of it but mostly he is an Englishman with rudimentary Persian (at least in the beginning) traveling on his own and getting by on his wits and his trust in fate. It is in
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