This is an amazing
book ... due to my reading choices, I rarely hit a book that "I can't put down", but this came pretty close. Louis Palmer's Adventures in Afghanistan
(published in 1990) takes place in the post-Soviet/pre-Taliban years, where a puppet communist regime had a tenuous grasp on the country, and "the resistance" controlled much of its territory. This is, on the surface, a travelogue of the author accompanying Mujahidin fighters on a "supply run" through various parts of Afghanistan, under the "protection" of the Mu'assisa, the "Sufi central organization", but it is more a collection of vignettes where "ancient teaching stories" are presented to the reader. Frankly, despite my serious caveats below, I highly recommend this book to anyone
The author describes fabulous scenes, hidden palaces cut into mountains, Alexander-era Greek cities sitting abandoned since being sacked by the Mongols, vast monasteries more complex and impressive than the Potala, standing forts in the style to the Taj Mahal ... he himself says he'd not believe the things he's seen had he not seen them. Incredible. And, unfortunately, that seems to be the sad fact here, it's not
credible. As the book moves on a nagging voice starts up in the back of the head ... "how come I've never heard
of any of these places?" ... "why are there no photos/sketches" ... "where exactly are
these places?" ... none of these have answers. Also, a Google search for a "Louis Palmer" (coupled with "Sufi" or "Afghanistan") turns up nothing
but references to the book ... who is this fellow, and what were his qualifications to get into a position to go on this hazardous yet wondrous journey?
As those who read these little reviews know, I've read quite a lot of Sufi material, primarily that coming from Idries Shah's Octagon Press, and it is always wise to take a step back from the "immediate impression" of this material and ask oneself, "What is being achieved
by this book?". To be honest, I was buying everything here hook, line, and sinker for about the first 3/4 of the book, making notes of stuff that I wanted to research further (as frequent readers also know, I'm a "ruin junkie"), and wondering if it was safe to travel as a tourist in Afghanistan these days! I have also had quite a fascination about the "Sufi world", and have wondered how one could get hooked up with "the Mu'assisa" or something like it, the true
source of these teachings, making me deeply hope that it was as easy as the author found it. I did, however, note how many of the various "teaching vignettes" really hit home with me, and came to realize, somewhere towards the end of the book, that this was no doubt the point. That this book was one of Shah's experiments in reaching out with teachings
via a vehicle different from yet another Mullah Nasruddin book, or a look at Sufi activities in a particular culture.
That said, this is quite a tale, especially
enticing to somebody with my interests. The author weaves a stunning tapestry of little factoids and histories that may or may not be actual
, from the roots of Masonic ritual, the inter-relationship of various Royal houses, the inter-play of Buddhist, Greek, and other cultures in the area, and an extraordinary string of descriptions of ruined cities, monasteries, palaces, fortresses, etc., etc., etc. in the virtually inaccessible reaches of Afghanistan. If even 10% of the travelogue is true
, it provides tantalizing clues to much which the modern seeker might not even suspect, however the "payoff" is in the teachings
which are discussions that the author reports having with numerous "wise" personages through his journey. The setting for each of these draws the reader in, and provides "conditions" for the story to have some impact. Of course, "what do I know?"
... for all I can prove
every word that the elusive Mr. Palmer writes may well be factually true, but I strongly suspect the "fabulous" elements are the cheese in the trap, focusing the reader on what is being transmitted.
However, as I said above, I highly recommend Adventures in Afghanistan
to anybody, but especially to those who share my fascination with the general subject matter. Being that the book is from Octagon, it is still in print, but is (as nearly all their books are) very
expensive. A new copy, either direct from them or from Amazon, etc., will set you back $35 for the 240-page hardcover (which I have) or $19 for the paperback. As is also frequently the case with Octagon titles, there aren't that many to be had in the new/used market, and the cheapest this could be had seems to be $7.20 for a used copy of the paperback. Either way, I believe that it would be money well spent!