Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review - Three Cups of Tea

Okay, so maybe this book is one that is beyond review. It seems that I am the last person I know to have read it, so most people have already formed their own opinions of it. That said, I loved it so much that I still feel the need to comment.

For anyone who hasn't read Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace....One School at a Time, and without spoiling the ending for you, the gist of the story is this: a mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, gets lost in Pakistan after failing to summit K2, the second-highest mountain in the world after Everest, but the most difficult to climb according to most. While being cared for in an extremely remote Pakistani village, he sees that the children have no school but instead do their lessons in the dirt on top of a hill with no teacher. He promises to return and build a school for them. And he does.

This book has it all. I love stories about people who participate in mountain climbing and other "extreme" sports, because I'm fascinated by people who push their bodies to their limits. I love to read books that teach me things I didn't know before, such as the lesson in central Asian politics and culture that I received from reading this one. And of course I love stories about people who find ways to make a difference - and boy, did he! Not only did he change the lives of countless young individuals, Greg Mortenson is (arguably) a one-man anti-terrorism squad, one that is probably more effective than any other. Some other reviewers have complained about the near hero-worship of Mortenson by the co-author of this book, journalist David Oliver Relin, but personally I wasn't bothered by it at all. Relin is frank about his devotion to Mortenson and his cause in the introduction - and quite any adulation doesn't seem to have gone to Dr. Greg's head, and seems pretty well-deserved at any rate.

I got the children's version of the book, Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea from the library, and love it. The illustrations are paper collages, and are colorful and beautiful. The story is simple, told from the perspective of the Korphe school children who take their lessons at the first school Moretenson built. There are photographs of the children, of Mortenson, and of Pakistan at the end. There is also a young adult version of Three Cups of Tea that I plan on checking out.

Mortenson co-founded the Central Asia Institute with Dr. Jean Horney in 1996 to promote community education for the children (especially girls) of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition to building schools, the CAI also has built women's vocational centers and water projects, and offers scholarships to graduates of CAI schools who want to continue their studies. Pennies for Peace is a project of the CAI, through which children can collect their pennies, which are nearly worthless here in the US but are valuable in central Asia, and donate them to help fund more CAI projects. I look forward to helping to start a P4P project at Bess' school in the fall!

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