Passage to Peshawar is in the classic vein of voyages of adventure. Richard Reeves, the acclaimed author of American Journey, takes us to one of the most beautiful and dangerous lands: Pakistan -- the ninth-largest country in the world. "There are many wonders and exotic ways between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea," he writes. "Pakistan is an exciting place, from the ancient city of Moenjodaro to the ancient ways still practiced in the pagan valleys Rudyard Kipling wrote of in 'The Man Who Would Be King.' Just to be in the country was an adventure."
The author conveys that adventure with vividness and wit and great feeling for the people he encounters -- from the opening scene Gadani Beach, where gangs of men break up 10,000-ton ships for scrap and then cut up the superstructure like a salami, to the closing scene, which takes place on Eid-ul-Fitr, a day of thanksgiving. On this day the dictator hears the complaints and the pleas of a few of the thousand who have lined up to seek his favor, even kiss his hand. Suddenly a deputy minister comes up behind the author and whispers: "Americans must not believe that this is what the people of Pakistan want."
"What do they want?"
"We are speaking unofficially?"
"Yes, of course."
"People are the same as people in America. The people want democracy. The people want justice. The people want freedom."
But Pakistan today is governed by a military dictatorship, backed by the money and might of the United States. It is our client, the world "frontline" in the terminology of the U.S. State Department, the danger zone in the tests of will and strength between the United States and the Soviet Union. Through the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, where 135,000 Soviet troops are fighting hundreds of thousands of Mujahideen, the fighters of an Islamic Holy War,descendents of warriors who have always prevailed against their invaders. From Pakistan, the United States channels its aid to these fighters through the frontier city of the Pathans, Peshawar. The book tells how Pakistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is absorbing millions of even poorer, more desperate people, Afghan refugees.
Richard Reeves paints an unforgettable portrait of this land and its people -- living simultaneously in the Stone Age, the medieval world, the nineteenth century and the technological present, faithful to an austere religion foreign and frightening to us, hustling for the luxuries of modern life. Passage to Peshawar is filled with stark and poetic word pictures. On Independence Day, a "cross section" of the population is assembled. Reeves looks out over the crowd and sees only three women: one of them is his wife.
"Informative, fascinating, and topical. . . . I know of no other journalistic account of a third world country that I can recommend as highly as this." Houston Chronicle
"Passage to Peshawar is teeming with contrasts in landscape, incident and innuendo, all of which are tamed by the keen eye and vivid insights of the narrator. . . . The value of Passage to Peshawar rests largely with the author's ability to communicate the tugs of modernity and tradition on the turbid soul of this populous nation. . . . He succeeds masterfully. . . . A virtuoso performance by a first-rate journalist at the peak of his reportorial and interpretive powers." The Christian Science Monitor
"Reportorial skill and instinct, coupled with his considerable talents as a writer, combine to give us a book that is eminently readable. . . . Reeves offers a series of interwoven essays that give us a feel for the dynamics of the place. . . . It is serious stuff with which he deals -- Islam, the desperate desire for economic growth, the interaction of a great power and developing state in a turbulent part of the world." Richard M. Weintraub, The Washington Post
"He's a brilliant writer. . . . You have a sense of this interesting journalist trying to deal with strange inland tribes in Pakistan . . . or swaying on bridges above chasms." The Los Angeles Times
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LOS ANGELES — Last Thursday was an interesting news day around here — and one that highlighted the importance of local reporting as newspapers fade away across the country.
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