Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review (Audio): Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan

Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan
by Greg Mortenson
published 2009
audiobook narrated by Atossa Leonni

A little more than two hours ago, we sent Betty and Boo off for their first day of school.  We take it for granted sometimes, don't we, that our kids (especially our girls) have schools to go to in the first place.  That's not the case for some parts of the world, as Stones Into Schools makes very clear.   

Even if you're like me and haven't read Greg Mortenson's first book, the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, chances are you know someone who has told you about it.  I was somewhat familiar with Mortenson's efforts from the many people who recommended Three Cups to me, which is why I picked up the follow-up book, Stones Into Schools, which apparently picks up where the first left off. 

I'm very interested in women and girls' issues, which was why this book appealed to me.  (I read it for the Women Unbound challenge.) The stories of the actual students in schools were my favorite parts of the book, although there weren't as many of those as I'd expected. Some of them are uplifting, while many of them are heartbreaking, and the devastation following the Kashmir earthquake is simply unfathomable. 

(I was looking on Greg Mortenson's websites for information on how his schools were doing as a result of the Pakistani floods, but didn't see anything.)

There is a tremendous amount of information in Stones Into Schools and for that reason alone, I'm not sure if this was my best choice for an audiobook.  (I thought the audiobook was fine in terms of Atossa Leoni's narration, the length, and the production.) For starters, there are a lot of people mentioned in this book.  (I'd imagine there would have to be, given the scope and complexity of Mortenson's work of building schools in the most remote of areas - a region which he has referred to as "the last best place," and lands where even the Afghan officials disagree on what country the very ground is part of.)  It seemed that we were meeting someone new and travelling someplace new with every chapter (or, in my case, with every new CD).

The region's history is also discussed in great detail, moreso than I would have preferred.  Someone with a strong interest in the history of the Middle East and our relations with that part of the world would probably especially enjoy this.  As I said, I wanted more stories about the girls themselves, what they were learning (we never really got much of an insight into this until briefly at the very end), how their lives were transformed because of having the school and what they wound up doing. 

There is a great deal of logistical detail too, extensive narratives and description about traversing the rough terrain and weather conditions and the lack of supplies.  Because the book goes back and forth between locales in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was hard (not having a familiarity with the geography there) to keep track of where we were. 

One part I do have to mention, only because I could relate so well to this.  In one part of the book, Mortenson tells about the donations sent from overseas (I think in response to the Pakistan earthquake), many of which were of little use to the people in need of more basic supplies.  He relates an amusing story of the villagers receiving countless jackets of a particular well-known brand, which sells for a pretty penny here in the United States, and seeing goats attired with them on the countryside.

Maybe this would have worked better for me if I read this instead of listening to it.  Despite the flaws in the book, I came away with much appreciation and admiration for Greg Mortenson. His work (through his non-profit organization, Central Asian Initiatives) of building schools in areas where few dare to tread is incredibly admirable and he is an inspiration for truly making the world a better place and being an example to all of how one person can make a difference. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Some nonfiction can be really hard on audiobook, especially if it relies on building a sustained argument (or a sustained history of a place). It's too bad this one didn't quite work on it, although I'm glad to hear you generally liked it. I read really mixed reviews of his first book, so I'm not sure I'd have read this one it I just came across it randomly.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I admire the work Greg Mortenson is doing, and all the efforts he has made to not only spread the word, but also to "walk the walk" and actively bring about positive change in this region.

However (don't you hate that word, you know a contradiction is coming!), I was so turned off by the tone of THREE CUPS OF TEA (ghost writer worshipped Mortenson, prose were overdone, poorly edited), that I've had no desire to read STONES INTO SCHOOLS. Maybe I should pick it up as a library book (not audio!). Thanks, Melissa.