Book Reviews

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time by
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Viking/Penguin

A young student told me three things that make a "great" book. It has to be captivating, thought provoking and allow the reader to escape into another dimension.

Three Cups of Tea is a quest that takes us into dangerous territory—the high Himalayas of Pakistan and the land of the Balti, a group of Muslims who subsist in this harsh landscape. Greg Mortenson, a climber who is committed to scaling the highest peaks in the world, finds himself lost after a failed attempt at climbing K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Found by his porter, Mouzafer Ali, frozen and disoriented, he is taken to Ali’s village where the mullah, Haji Ali, welcomes him. He is nursed back to health, becomes enamored with the ways of the people and takes a special interest in the children. Haji Ali takes him to where the children learn their lessons, a mountain ledge with dirt on the ground where the children go with sticks and repeat, in the dirt with their sticks, the lessons they have been taught by a teacher who comes once in a while. This is the beginning of a story that takes Mortenson back to this region time and time again. Why? Because Haji Ali tells Greg that these devout Muslim people want their children, especially the girls, to be educated. Greg ends his stay at Haji Ali’s village promising to return and build them a school. That’s the captivating part.

Back in the US, where he works as a trauma nurse, Mortenson writes, with two fingers on an ancient typewriter, to as many famous and wealthy people as he can identify—over 500 letters. Only one replies. In despair at his lack of fundraising ability, Greg tells one of the doctors and a fellow climber about his dilemma. The doctor suggests he contact Jean Hoerni, a very wealthy man and former climber. Hoerni, a rather grumpy and curmudgeonly individual who Greg finds quite intimidating, nonetheless responds to his request for enough money to build a school: $12,000. ("My wife could spend that in a weekend," Hoerni says.). A long and close relationship develops between the two men over the years. Mortenson travels back and forth to Pakistan, and has many adventures and many in-depth conversations, especially with Haji Ali. He learns a great deal about the faith and ways of the Balti. As Haji Ali tells him, "You must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time." These many conversations and Mortenson’s personal insights into the differences between Baltistan and North America are the thought-provoking aspects.

And last but in no way least, the escape to another dimension. What could be further from our North American lifestyle than being taken to a remote part of the world that most of us will never get to see? David Oliver Relin’s telling of Mortenson’s story is completely absorbing, captivating and well written.

This is a wonderful book that gives the reader an unprecedented and very personal insight into a people that I had no knowledge of before reading it.

Reviewed by Alma Lee