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Two years after being published, this story of Central Asian philanthropy continues to top the American bestseller lists. Greg Mortenson used to be a mountain climber until, on an expedition to try and top K2 in memory of his dead sister, he found himself sick and exhausted on the return trip.Collapsing in a small Pakistani village called Korphe, the local people nursed him back to health.In gratitude, he set out to raise funds to build schools to help the village and others in the region, with an especial eye towards providing education for young girls. Women are marginalized in most Central Asian societies, which are highly patriarchal and often misogynistic, and Mortenson believes that only by giving them the chance to learn can the region ever be lifted out of backwardness and poverty.


The book is Mortenson's story, but is largely written by an admiring journalist, David Relin. Its heart is undoubtedly in the right place, and the scenes of children giving access to books and teachers and solid classrooms for the first time are deeply touching, while Mortenson's adventures among the mountains of Pakistan and elsewhere are pretty interesting. The writing, however, is lacklustre; melodramatic without being truly exciting, and very few of the many characters Mortenson meets come to life, although the cultural details can be intriguing - the book's title comes from a local proverb that 'The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.' Still, the message of hope and peace has struck a chord with the American public, and the details of life among the very poor can hit hard for those of us used to a life of comfort.


The Shack



Christian fiction sells amazing amounts in the USA, despite being more or less ignored by the wider publishing industry. Fortunately, this latest example is a cut above such vile, terrible books as the Left Behind series that sold millions of copies in the 1990s; it's about forgiveness, love, and the reality of suffering. Published by a small house, it became a word-of-mouth hit.


The story deals with Mackenzie Philips, or 'Mac,' a father of five who loses his youngest daughter, Missy, to a serial killer. Sinking into a deep depression, he receives a note from 'Papa' - even though his own father is long dead - inviting him to come to the shack in the woods where his daughter was murdered. Taking up the invitation, he finds himself greeted by the three members of the Christian Holy Trinity - Jesus, a Mideastern carpenter, the Holy Spirit, who manifests as a young Asian woman, and God, who appears as a black woman who calls herself 'Papa.' Mac discusses forgiveness, Heaven, and religion with them, and 'Papa' eventually shows him where his daughter's body is buried, leading to the arrest of her killer.


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