Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Places Between & Point of Honour

The day before yesterday, just as I was finishing up on the computer, Mia came running up to me and asked me to "blow" on her fingers. I caught a whiff of the fingernail polish at the same time I saw her newly pink fingertips. I jumped up and ran for the bathroom as she started crying. I found the bottle, neatly capped sitting on the floor in front of the toilet (she was supposed to be going potty) with two small drops of polish on the tile. My three-year-old daughter managed to paint her fingers (and toes!) with a minimum of mess. True there was a little more paint then necessary on her toes, but overall, I'm impressed. My manicure kit is now up on a much higher shelf, and she feels pretty.

The Places Between by Rory Stewart is one of those books that captures the reader completely and doesn’t let go until the very end. Stewart decided he was going to walk around much of the world, and this book tells of his walk through Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban government. He had to walk from west to east Herat to Kabul, and it took him about 30 days to cross the desert, mountainous region. The pictures show the stark beauty of Afghanistan, but Stewart’s spare descriptions capture the strange elegance of its people. Because he does not have an agenda, Stewart is able to tell the story of this area without the political baggage that so many journalists carry. He tells the story of his own near death in the snow with the same emotion he tells of the flirtatious glances of a young Hazaran girl. He tries to make sense of the various tribes and leaders, but after reading this book, I understand much better the problems facing the UN as they try to bring democracy to them. How do you solve centuries of feudal alliances and infighting with resolutions made in cities most of the residents have never seen? Stewart is a powerful writer, one of the best of his generation, and this book should be required reading.

Point of Honour by Madeleine E. Robins is the first book in the Sarah Tolerance mystery series. In Regency England, Sarah has been abandoned by her upper class family after her “ruination” by her brother’s fencing tutor. Rather than live a life of prostitution, Sarah becomes an “agent of inquiry” and makes her living by her wits. And what wit Sarah has! This England is a bit different than that of history: Queen Charlotte is ruling in place of her husband George III, but it’s still a world of classes and rules. Sarah is an extremely bright woman who is a pleasure to read about. The search for a mysterious Italian fan raises feelings in Sarah she thought were long buried, and she’s double-crossed by those she trusted best. Robins does a fantastic job of conjuring up this England of long ago with rich descriptions.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming three day weekend. I'm going to the Amish quilt auction again with Mom and Cathy, and that's one of my favorite days of the year.