Friday 28 May 2010

Book Review: Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin – Three Cups of Tea

I was recommended this book a while ago by Umm Nassim and had been keeping an eye out for it, so was delighted when Girl Who Walks In The Rain bought it for me as a gift when we met up.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortensen’s failed climb up the K2 in Pakistan, his rescue by one of the local guides and his subsequent decision to build a school in the community that nurture him back to health – the Muslim’s of Baltistan at the northern tip of Pakistan, close to the Indian border.

His return to America, his attempts to raise money and support and his eventual building of the school leads to his realisation that he cannot stop at just one school if he is to make a real difference to this area of the world.

Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating story about an amazing man. Right from the beginning Mortensen attempts to learn from others and immerse himself in the culture of Northern Pakistan, from wearing shalwar kameez and learning the language to learning how to pray. His willingness to do these things and his humility mean that wherever he travels in the area he gains respect and support. Before long he is attempting to spread his work further afield to the Pakistan-Afghan border and Afghanistan, despite the danger to his own life.

Although this is a fascinating story and one well worth reading in my view, the story is let down terribly by the bad writing. At so many points in the book I felt as if I were reading a newspaper feature, albeit a long one. I really, and truly could not understand how Relin could be a prize winning author if he writes like this (ridiculous and endless metaphors, overstating the heroism of his subject – and the big one “show don’t tell” where you are supposed to let the reader works out his own feelings towards the subject and the book rather than hammering then with your views).

Another criticism is that the book is heavy on climbing facts and details. This is understandable in that the climbing community supported Mortensen’s work and also that is was his failed climb that lead him to the people of Baltistan, but for most readers this might be a distraction rather than add to his story about building schools.

Despite this, Mortensen’s humility and kindness shine through. He is firm in his belief that the only way to help the poorest Pakistan in people change their condition is through educating their children and in particular the girls. He is particularly clear that this is the only way that to wage the war against terror and not through dropping bombs on people who already live in grinding poverty.

This is a wonderful book, even if badly written, it gives an interesting, sympathetic insight into the man and the country and certainly gave me an interesting understanding of the war in Afghanistan.

Of course I write as a layperson who knows nothing about building schools and then running them. There is a fascinating review of this book at Sabbah’s blog Long Black Veil which is a bit more knowledgeable on the subject.


  1. Thank you, kind Umm Salihah, for the link up! God bless.
    Reading the follow up book to 'Three Cups of Tea' now: 'Stones into Schools'. Marginally better because of the absence of Relin. :)

  2. Assalam Alaikum, long time!!! I will send you an email...lots of changes here...did you get a chance to see the Three Cups of Tea picture book? I think your children might enjoy that one! I still owe you some chocolate :-)

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