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The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  6,211 ratings  ·  692 reviews
A true-life Catch-22 set in the deeply dysfunctional countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by one of the region’s longest-serving correspondents.

Kim Barker is not your typical, impassive foreign correspondent—she is candid, self-deprecating, laugh-out-loud funny. At first an awkward newbie in Afghanistan, she grows into a wisecracking, seasoned reporter with grave concer
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Doubleday
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Average rating 3.45  · 
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 ·  6,211 ratings  ·  692 reviews

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Apr 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: afghanistan, pakistan
It didn't begin too well,I saw some negative reviews and nearly abandoned it myself.

But it get a lot better by the time it ended.The portion on Afghanistan didn't interest me much,it is rather superficial,and there are many better books on Afghanistan.The author,a journalist,was embedded with some US troops and talks about what she saw.

However,I was more interested in what she had to say about Pakistan.

It is a lively account,of what was a very turbulent time in Pakistan's recent history.In 2007,
Jan 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Emilie Greenhalgh
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was ok

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
I cannot say this is a must read, but the book certainly brought much insight into the politics behind the American and Afghanistan war of the era in which Osama Ben Laden and the Taliban captured the world's imagination.

An embedded journalist, Kim Barker, wrote this memoir commemorating her five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the war she had to report on as the South Asia bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune in 2004. She constantly moved between the American armed forces on the ground, N
Raúl Omar
I loved the weird balance between, serious, funny and sad stuff. Barker knows when a joke helps to put things in perspective and when to get serious about serious stuff. Some reads make you think about your life, goals and expectations, some others make you laugh and some other make you feel sad. Barker delivers the whole package but instead of an awful emotional rollercoaster mess, I experienced a complex… well yeah, emotional rollercoaster mess, not in the awful way but in the way that life is ...more
Lala BooksandLala
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was far too self involved for my taste and expectation of the book.
Jānis Lībeks
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was furious at the author at first. Just like the US insurgency in to Afghanistan, she went in without much of an idea of what she was doing. I was under the impression that foreign journalists would be experts in their field to begin with. I was wrong. Then I started questioning her morals. She outlines several episodes in which she interacted with the locals in arrogant ways; leading some people on, exploiting others. Refusing to take bribes, but then seemingly giving in.

But then I realized
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-books-2016
Taught me more about the war in Afghanistan and an understanding of Pakistan/US relations than I ever expected. Great informative, very readable account of Baker's years as a war correspondent. Would recommend it without reservation. The movie (whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot) does not do it justice. ...more
Scott Rhee
Often called “The Forgotten War”, Afghanistan is a chaotic hotbed of racial, religious, and political tensions that has suffered centuries of indignities at the hands of British, Soviet, and American forces. Often labelled “primitive”, “tribal”, and “uneducated” by the West, Afghanis certainly---and by all rights---should have no shortage of mistrust, loathing, and hatred of the West.

In 2004, journalist Kim Barker decided to cover Afghanistan as a fill-in correspondent. She wasn’t expecting to s
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
Deborah Markus
I feel as if I just read the autobiography of someone who doesn't know her subject very well.

A lot of reviewers here have said this book is intensely self-involved, and it is. Which makes it that much stranger that, having read it, I still don't know some basic facts about the author. I don't know why she became a journalist. I don't know why she fell in love with Afghanistan. I don't know what being in love with anything or anyone means to her, since depth of emotion seems something she instinc
DNF at page 48. I've abandoned about five books already this year and its still only January but I'm getting more confident in discarding books when it's clear that I'm not going to enjoy it rather than trying to finish it just for the sake of it.

I gave up on this book because Barker comes across as shallow, unlikable and self important. I can't read any more from her perspective because it's so infuriating. I really want to read a good, personal, true account of life in Afghanistan at this poi
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
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Philip Girvan
May 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Barker's memoir of her time spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2003-09 as the Chicago Tribune's South Asia Bureau Chief is a fun read. She's an astute observer, both of human nature as well as the failures of the US and NATO forces as well as their allies and enemies in the region. Barker's sense of humor gets blacker and blacker as the situations in both countries worsen, and she's as likely to poke fun at herself as she as anyone (and there are no shortage of targets).

Among the sections
Dec 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow, there is such a diversity of opinion on this book. I felt one reviewer correctly summed up that the title was misleading - this book is about Kim Barker with Afghanistan and Pakistan as a backdrop. However I did quite like the book and reading about her experiences as a foreign correspondent
Jenny McPhee
Nov 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Karen C.
Nov 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
There have to be better books on Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was a good appetizer, but lacking as an entrée.
Tariq Mahmood
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pakistan
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
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle-edition
I honestly do not understand the hate on this book especially since it's the exact same book as Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot. I found this fascinating! In the way it sort of picks up where Charlie Wilson's War leaves off and helps understand what a mess the super powers have made of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is on the light side but it's never presented as the history of the world by David McCullough. It's sarcastic, and funny yes, but you do get a very real sense of the mess going on there.

Carolyn Walsh
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
The current movie Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot is based on the memoir of Kim Barker during her time as war correspondent. She went unprepared and naive. Descriptions of politics, bombings and shootings fell flat. She rushed into the centre of destruction and killing, and was easily bored by quiet times. She thinks foreign correspondents are there not so much for the salary but for the adrenaline rush. She comes across as self absorbed and entitled, often impatient and rude to people trying to help.

Carol Douglas
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Kim Barker is an excellent journalist who reported on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Chicago Tribune for nearly a decade. She met Hamid Karzai and many other important figures in Afghanistand, and Nawal Sharif, now prime minister of Pakistan, and many other important figures in that country.
She provides an excellent outline of the history of the war in Afghanistan and political developments in Pakistan, where militants infiltrate into Afghanistan. They also cause disruption in Pakistan, which
Matt Heimer
Jun 26, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Alice Warren-gregory
Aug 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
I know I marked this book read, but the truth is, I didn't finish it because it was so poorly written and, frankly, boring. I expected much more based on the critical acclaim, the source material, and the fact that the author was a professional journalist. Well, you wouldn't know that this book was written by a professional anything or that it was written about one of the most compelling and unique regions/conflicts in the world. Skip this unless you want to learn how not to write a memoir. ...more
May 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Apr 03, 2016 rated it liked it
This one was OK. It was informative and interesting but I wished that the author would have gone more in depth on certain of the events. The actual events were much more important than the reporter having a bad hair day, etc. There were parts that were humorous and some that were very sad.
Nov 29, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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Kim Barker was the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009, based in New Delhi and Islamabad.

Barker is now a metro reporter at The New York Times, specializing in investigative reporting and narrative writing. Before joining The Times in mid-2014, Ms. Barker was an investigative reporter at ProPublica, writing mainly about campaign finance and the fallout from the Suprem

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“Back then, I had no idea what would actually happen. That Pakistan and Afghanistan would ultimately become more all consuming than any relationship I had ever had. That they would slowly fall apart, and that even as they crumbled, chunk by chunk, they would feel more like home than anywhere else. I had no idea that I would find self-awareness in a combat zone, a kind of peace in chaos. My life here wouldn't be about a man or God or some cause. I would fall in love, deeply, but with a story, with a way of life. When everything else was stripped away, my life would be about an addiction, not to drugs, but to a place. I would never feel as alive as when I was here.” 4 likes
“It wasn't necessarily the booze and brothels. It was the growing gap in the country between the haves and have-nots, the corruption, the warlords now in parliament, the drug lords doubling as government officials, the general attitude of the foreigners from aid workers to the international troops, and the fact that no one ever seemed to be held accountable for anything.” 3 likes
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