Not Oprah’s Book Club: Three Cups of Tea

three cups.jpgGreg Mortenson is an unlikely advocate of girls’ education. A hyper-masculine mountain climber, he spent much of his young twenties figuring out how to get to K2, one of the tallest mountains in the world, and climb it. He failed. But as with so many failures, there was a wild success underneath.
He fell in love with Pakistan and its people, especially the native peoples of Korphe, a tiny village high in the mountains that defeated him. After building a school there (another climb that included many, many obstacles), he found that it was not outdoor sports but education that he was most called to. He wanted to keep building schools, keep interacting with the people of Pakistan, keep—he would later conceptualize—fight terror through the safety of books and open minds.
The 300 page book (exhaustively detailed at times) is a powerful retelling of Mortenson’s journey. As a sucker for these kinds of biographies in altruism, I was riveted the whole time. Mortenson’s resilience and determination inspired me to take a totally new perspective on my own definition of “set back.” He is sometimes frighteningly unafraid.
But what I found missing from this account were the moral complexities. In Korphe, for example, Mortenson helps the village people—historically separated from “civilization”—by an abyss, build a bridge. What seems simple, however, had to have caused all sorts of wild changes in the community. Relin only dwells on the positive, briefly mentioning that there are often unintended side effects of well-intentioned acts. As someone interested in all the gray of international development and civic involvement, I want to read about those side effects, not see them glossed over.
In short, the biography was too sunny for me, to glowing and angelic. Nevertheless, I was incredibly moved by Mortenson’s example and you, no doubt, will be too (if you haven’t already been…it’s a bestseller after all).
Next time: The Oxytocin Factor by Kirsten Uvnas Moberg

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