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Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 21, 2009


I won this book in our Guess the Number of Pages competition which we run every year as part of our book week celebrations. We wrap one book for each class in red ( a salute to the Be Well Read, Wear Red Literacy Week slogan) and the child who guesses the correct number of pages gets to keep the book.  I should have abstained from the Staff competition; a librarian has an unfair advantage.

Anyway, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (Young Readers Edition) is the story of how mountaineer Greg Mortenson transformed his life and became a humanitarian.  Profusely illustrated with photos both B&W and colour, the story begins with a brief recount of how his 1991 attempt to climb K2 in Pakistan, the second highest mountain in the world, was frustrated by near-disaster.  One of his co-climbers, Etienne Fine, became sick and disorientated from altitude sickness, and the expedition had to carry him back down the mountain to be rescued by helicopter.  Too stressed and tired to continue with the climb, Mortensen and Darnsey then decided to return to base, but Mortenson himself became lost – and was rescued by the Pakistani porter Mouzafer Ali. However he somehow became lost again, and in this way that he came to be in the village of Korphe, where he was taken in and cared for by Haji Ali, the head man.

It was this experience that made Mortenson take stock of his life and make the decision that he would express his gratitude by building them a school.  It turned out to be less simple than he had naively imagined, and before long he realised that it was not enough to build just one school.  He managed to raise funds through Jean Hoerni, an American philanthropist who had made his money in Silicon Valley.  Together they co-founded the Central Asia Institute, which builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite death threats from Islamic fundamentalists who object to the education of girls, and the resurgent Taliban.

This is a worthwhile book for young people to read, but I have one minor quibble.  On p21, a reference to Mortenson’s sister’s death at an early age is attributed to vaccination. Perpetuating this type of ignorant myth-making is entirely inappropriate for readers too young to be aware that the claim has been proven to be false and the doctor who made the claim has been struck off. It is dangerous if people take it seriously as has been shown by rising rates of whooping cough in the West and the tragic rejection of polio vaccine in some developing countries.

Author: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin, adapted by Sarah Thomson

Title: Three Cups of Tea

Publisher: Puffin, 2009

ISBN: 9780143304630

Source: won in MPPS competition, donated to the Op Shop.

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