01 November 2007

Land of the High Flags: Afghanistan When the Going Was Good

I had high hopes for this book by Rosanne Klass. It's a reprint (by Odyssey who wrote several of our favorite travel guides) of her time spent teaching English in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. And I wasn't disappointed, not really, but I wasn't terribly impressed either. But there were some excellent parts and it was quick to read.

It seemed odd how thoroughly absent her husband was in the book. I learned about the gardener, the director of the school, the neighbors, etc, but her husband, who was obviously there for a lot of it, had no role in the book. I also wasn't really excited about hearing about the servants so much (she described one for 30 pages); she also lived a pretty privileged life in Kabul, although nearly all expats at the time did (as most expats still do). I would have liked to hear more about her students and teaching, and about their travels around the country, especially since so many things have changed now.

But what I didn't like was how detached Klass seemed. I know she wasn't, given her obviously intense interest in the region since then, but that fascination just didn't come through in the book and I was a bit disappointed with that. Although it was refreshing to not have to read about her opinions and interpretations of everything like you have to in many modern travel books.

Recommended if you're interested in Afghanistan or Central Asia, and it's fairly good as a general travel book.


  1. I'm sorry that you were disappointed in the book, but I wonder if you read all of it. If you read the final chapter, written for this new edition, you would have learned that my husband and I wound up divorcing, and you might have guessed that after the unpleasantness of a divorce, I wasn't inclined to write about him much. Nevertheless, I did keep saying "we" throughout the book. (By comparison,in Isak Dinesen's classic "Out of Africa," the reader is two-thirds through the book before learning that she was married.)I thought I wrote a good deal about the school and my students, and my feelings about them. As for Gul Baz, he was a vivid personality, a veritable Jeeves, and worth writing about. Nevertheless, thanks for recommending the book.

  2. I did enjoy the book and hope you don't think I was disappointed in the entire thing. I always have complaints about every travel book I read.

    I did read the entire book and knew you had divorced. I just meant that *to me* it seemed odd that you referred to a "we" the entire book but hardly ever wrote about what that other part of the we said or thought. I couldn't write a book about travelling with my husband without writing about him and his actions sometimes, but that's just my point of view.

    I'm not writing great reviews here, just what I thought of the book. And I liked yours.