The Taliban Shuffle: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – by Kim Barker

Non-Fiction, Post-9/11

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, now a major motion picture with Tina Fey at its helm, is a foreign reporter’s account of her time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It includes political commentaries, lessons she learnt and incredible stories – a lively mix of personal and work-related experiences, describing interviews with important political leaders and drunken nights out in the ‘dry’ Afghan city of Kabul. Through her time with US soldiers on ’embeds’, visits to villages, Barker reports on the lives of normal people – or as she put it, “the smaller stories about what happens in a country when the west rushes in there after being kept out for so long”. Her move to Pakistan halfway through the book offers another perspective on the Taliban and the ‘forgotten war’ – and clearly displays her preference for Afghanistan over its unbelievably corrupt, damaged counterpart (although it seems Afghanistan gives Pakistan a run for its money).

After reading this book, I gained a newfound respect for journalists, especially foreign reporters, who often risk their lives to deliver news; like many professions, the majority of journalists are passionate about their jobs. But I don’t think it was this that drove Barker in her ‘quest’; it wasn’t fast, emergency information that she really wanted to provide – especially as it was this that repeatedly interrupted her much-needed holidays! Despite her commitment to ‘reporting the truth’ and the buzz that comes with it, she seemed far more interested in the bigger picture: the long-term effects of war on citizens, and the problems that hinder the country’s progression. Perhaps it’s easy to criticise others, but Barker seemed especially talented at pointing out where things were going wrong in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Westerners alike.

I also learnt a lot about the complex tribal system of Afghanistan, which is an integral part of politics and life in the country. Similarly, I had a new understanding for the corrupt, volatile political landscape in Pakistan, with its destructive military leaders and over-powerful intelligence agency; reading about a place that is so different was quite an eye-opener. Reading from an individual’s perspective enhanced my appreciation and knowledge for the subject – far more than an impersonal newspaper article ever could. With her dark humour and satirical tone, some would argue that Barker isn’t your typical woman on an ‘Eat-Pray-Love’ journey abroad – but although I agree, her optimism and resilience are also apparent, and contribute to her charming voice.

As with many  books, and especially non-fiction ones, I was a little slow to ‘get into it’ and find myself wanting to pick it up; however, once I did, I relished the escape it offered and Barker’s entertaining narrative. It was especially well-written (which is maybe to be expected from a print journalist, but nonetheless), a funny, easy-to-follow ‘travel diary’ with sophistication and wit.

Especially after the story picked up, the book didn’t seem long at all (but because I read it electronically, it’s hard to say). A book for those looking for a perspective on life in 2000s Afghanistan and Pakistan combined with a good-quality travel memoir. Basically, if you like substantive memoirs then you’ll like this.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAAA (8)

Writing: AAAAAAAA (7)

Pace: Medium

Buy on Amazon

Buy at Waterstones

Buy at Barnes & Noble (US)

Thanks to Angela at Wunderkind for providing me with a digital copy of this entertaining travel-memoir of a foreign journalist.