Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review: Stones Into Schools

This morning's news brought word of yet another attack on a girls' school in one of the northern provinces of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Three schoolgirls, a Pakistani soldier and three American troops were killed in the blast. Many girls were also injured.

Which is why Greg Mortenson's Stones Into Schools is such an important book. This is the sequel to Three Cups of Tea, the book that chronicles the story of Mortenson's mission to build schools and promote education for the women of the remote areas of northwest Pakistan. Three Cups of Tea became a best-seller and Mortenson, albeit reluctantly, became a much-sought after speaker and fund-raiser for the Central Asia Institute, which has built 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan serving 51,000 students with an emphasis on the education of girls. Why the emphasis on girls' education? Because Mortenson believes that girls are the key to social change in this part of the world.

Three Cups of Tea is now required reading for West Point's Counterintelligence School because of the insight it gives into the culture of the people of this area. I wouldn't be surprised to see Stones Into Schools added to that list because it expands that insight into remote areas of Afghanistan. Mortenson, the son of Christian missionaries to Africa, has a gift for communicating cross-cultural understanding.

Stones Into Schools picks up where Three Cups of Tea left off. The book recounts Mortenson's struggle to fulfill a commitment made to 14 brave Afghani men who crossed a dangerous pass into Pakistan to find him and beg him to build a school in a very remote are of their country. Ten years and many disappointments and hardships later, that vow was fulfilled. And it was fulfilled by the efforts of the Afghani people rather than by their American supporters. One of the reasons why the work of the CAI is so promising is that it empowers the local people to do for themselves and thus have real ownership of these schools and the expansion of education to their girls.

Stones Into Schools is not great literature, but I think it is as compelling and inspiring as Three Cups of Tea. The book combines a fascinating travelogue with individual stories of triumph, tragedy and heroism. I highly recommend it.

This Monday Greg Mortenson is speaking at a fund-raising luncheon in Houston, which I am happy to report is now sold-out. I'm going along with several other family members because we have adopted the CAI as our charity of choice in honor of my nephew, the navy doctor, who is waiting deployment to Afghanistan. I can't wait.


Anonymous said...

wow - great review - have not read either book yet but they will now be checked out from the library!! thanks QG!

stinuksuk said...

I'm sure the fundraising luncheon will be most fascinating and engaging.
I read 3 Cups, which also was not great literature. Who wrote Stones Into Schools? Hopefully, a better writer than 3 Cups.
I'll hold off until it's in paperback or someone loans it to me.
It's such a compelling story and life's work with long term implications and a better writer would have made it moreso.
Let us know, how the luncheon went!

Quotidian Grace said...

Three Cups of Tea was written by David O. Relin. Stones Into Schools gives Mortenson credit as author but the acknowledgments list Mike Bryan and Kevin Fedarko as collaborators. Stones Into Schools is not as well written as Three Cups, IMHO, maybe because there were too many writers on the projects. Sometimes the narrative became garbled and hard to follow. Still, it tells an important and inspiring story. I'll definitely file a report on the luncheon!