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"Picnics with the Mujaheddin"

Paratexts and Personal Motivation in Travel Writing about Afghanistan

Kerry Featherstone

This article considers the stated motivations for travel in the case of three examples of travel writing about Afghanistan. Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light documents his travel in 1984 during the war between the Afghan Mujaheddin and the Soviets; Jonny Bealby’s For a Pagan Song, first published in 1998, takes place during the civil war between Mujaheddin and the Taleban; Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between was written about travel between 2000 and 2002, during which time Operation Enduring Freedom was launched against the Taleban. The article deploys Genette’s concept of paratexts in order to show how the acknowledgments, blurbs, and other paratextual material, when read against the grain, undermine the relationship between the writer and their stated motivations and, thus, destabilize the self-representation of each writer in the course of the narrative. The outcome of these readings is a critique of the three texts, arguing that each one works to justify their travel through a combination of self-narration and paratextual material but that none of them address the implications of their travel for the Afghan people or that the purpose of the travel is to write the text.

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Martyn J. Powell, Kerry Featherstone, and Jonathan Skinner

Christopher J. Woods, Travellers’ Accounts as Source-Material for Irish Historians, Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History (2009) Reviewed by Martyn J. Powell

Nicholas Shakespeare and Elizabeth Chatwin, eds., Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin (2010) Reviewed by Kerry Featherstone

Graham Huggan, Extreme Pursuits: Travel/Writing in an Age of Globalization (2009) Reviewed by Jonathan Skinner