I happened on this book by a strange route. In my last book, Whiskey & Charlie, the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc) is a key component of its structure. In looking around Wikipedia, a movie title caught my eye, Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot (yes, pretty funny title), and I learned it was based on this book by journalist Kim Barker. The NYT review of the book says the author portrays herself as a “sort of Tina Fey character,” and that’s who starred in the movie. Hope the reviewer got a credit for that.
The author describes becoming an adrenalin junkie, writing about the events in Afghanistan and Pakistan as The Chicago Tribune South Asia bureau chief from 2004 to 2009. She rushed from bombing to assassination to natural disaster, interrupting vacations and precluding commitments to family and boyfriends. She and other journalists lived like perpetual college students in crowded off campus housing, scrounging alcohol like high schoolers.
It was shortly after 9/11 while working for The Chicago Tribune that she, as a single woman with no children, was given the opportunity to work overseas. She went first to Pakistan and on her first trip in 2002 made countless mistakes. “I ordered sushi from the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad which resembled dorsal fins on a bed of rice and laid me up for days. I sneaked into the tribal areas of Pakistan with a fixer who seemed more interested in scoring hash than in working and called me “Princess” when I complained. And then when I flew to Kabul the first time, I forgot my cash. That was a major lesson. In a war zone there are no ATMs.”
Barker’s childhood sounds mainstream in that she grew up in Montana and her father was an architect. But she says he was the type of person who would prefer to spend $50.00 to send a box of pennies to pay a speeding ticket rather than just sending a check. After working in various South Asian countries she concluded she felt most at home in Afghanistan. It seemed familiar: “it had jagged blue and purple mountains, big skies, and bearded men in pick up trucks stocked with guns and hate for the government. It was like Montana, just on different drugs.”
Though she clearly saw the cost of living the way she did there, she did not give up that life easily. Even after The Tribune no longer had a bureau in that region, she had trouble leaving Afghanistan. She now writes for the metro desk of The New York Times.
Kim Barker, The Taliban Shuffle, Doubleday, 2011, 302 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available from the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.