by Greg Mortenson
At the close of Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson had received a request to bring his schools to the rural areas of Afghanistan. In this follow-up book, Mortenson expands his schools into a new country while struggling to balance new demands on his time and energy from the United States, where his previous book has become a best seller and his wife raises his two daughters .
I had originally bought this book because I wanted to read more about the activities of the Central Asia Institute, because Three Cups of Tea was such an amazing book. While Stones into Schools was sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be read, the 60 Minutes report and Krakauer book hit the news, discrediting many of the claims made in Three Cups of Tea. It made me rather hesitant to read the second book, but eventually I did in order to see how the narrative sounded to a more jaded reader.
Stones into Schools is written in the first person by Mortenson, an interesting change from the previous book. (It makes it all the more unusual if you listen to the audio book, which is narrated by Atossa Leoni, an actress of Iranian descent.) The lack of a cowriter for this book is both good and bad. On the one hand, the reader is spared the gushing, fanboy prose of David Relin. On the other hand, some of Mortenson’s whining about how hard life is now that he’s a bestselling writer who has to go on tour to promote his book would have probably been cut if there’d been someone else writing with him…and that would have done the reader a great service. I also found the book rather difficult to follow; Mortenson introduces many of his employees and students over in Pakistan and Afghanistan and it’s hard to keep track of them.
Some of the hardest moments were when Mortenson would describe his organization’s failures. For example, on multiple occasions he would provide scholarships for girls to continue their education beyond what his village schools could teach; CAI would pay for lodging and tuition for girls to go to high school and university. Unfortunately, the girls’ families wouldn’t let them go, whether out of jealousy (as when a brother-in-law wanted the scholarship money for himself) or fear that the girl’s bride price would be reduced by her educated status. The inability of the CAI to “complete” the education that they started for reasons like these is heartbreaking.
The major project of the book, building a school for the Kirghiz to fulfill a promise Mortenson made to the tribe’s leader, was criticized because
A/ Nobody close to Abdul Rashid Khan knew of the promise; Khan’s son had never even met Mortenson
B/ Since the school was completed in 2009, it has stood empty. Classes have not been held because the location is so poor; further, the school lacks furniture and supplies.
As I was reading the book, I kept remembering these criticisms, and it did negatively impact my take on the book. Mortenson’s team often seemed to be acting arbitrarily, making random decisions at the last minute because no one had seriously planned out what they wanted to do. The disorganization of CAI stood out in these pages, amplified all the more by the reports of the past few months. I did try to read the book without being influenced by the controversy surrounding Greg Mortenson, but in the end I couldn’t do it. Whether it was because the book itself was weaker or the report of John Krakauer was simply too convincing, the magic of Three Cups of Tea was not replicated in Stones into Schools.
2.5 out of 5 stars
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