By: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.
Completion: To be completely honest, I read the introduction, which I normally never do, and became very worried. The introduction’s praise was excessive like a nauseous love letter. Granted, I was already a little dubious about the idea of a white American man going to “fix” other countries. What if this book was nothing more than an ego boost and big pat on the back? Come to find out, I shouldn’t have worried.
Writing/Style: The writing was lovely, especially with its landscape descriptions. As well, the style effortlessly transitioned from tense to amusing to inspiring when called for.
Characters: David Oliver Relin, the primary author, could have so easily glossed over the wide cast of characters that Greg Mortenson met, but I was glad to find how much time he took in detailing the people Mortenson encountered and giving credit to those that helped Mortenson along the way. However, I do wish more time was spent adding depth to Mortenson’s character although I do acknowledge that the purpose of this novel was spreading awareness.
Plot/Pacing: Despite the narrative covering years of work, the pacing never felt slow or monotonous. Just the inevitable obstacles to building these schools and he logistics of dealing with a different culture as well as mundane things like weather provide for an interesting, engaging story.
World-building/Atmosphere: Even without the pictures the book provides, I felt right there in the action. I saw the rough terrain, I saw every smile, I saw the schools: the pictures just confirmed it as an added bonus.
Subgenres (Romance, humor, Mystery, etc.): For a reader like me who has limited knowledge of this region of the world, the novel succeeded in both being inspiring and educational.
FINAL VERDICT: While a controversy exists around Greg Mortenson and his alleged exaggerations and/or omissions in relation to his work, I still feel that the spirit of his story can still inspire and educate others. If read with a grain of salt, Three Cups of Tea can still help enlighten people on a part of the world that is all to often simultaneously misrepresented and ignored.