Book review: Three Cups of Tea

‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson
and David Oliver Relin @

“If you insist on keeping your kafir school, you must pay a price,” Mehdi said. the lids of his eyes lowering. “I demand twelve of your largest rams.”

“As you wish,” Haji Ali said, turning his back on Mehdi, to emphasize how he had degraded himself by demanding a bribe. “Bring the chogo rabak!” he ordered.

You have to understand, in these villages, a ram is like a firstborn child, prize cow and family pet all rolled into one,” Mortenson explains. “The most sacred duty of each family’s oldest boy was to care for their rams, and they were devastated.”

… All the boys wept as they handed over their most cherished possessions to their nurmadhar. Haji Ali led the line of rams, lowing mournfully, to Haji Mehdi, and threw the lead to him without a word. Then he turned on his heel and herded his people toward the site of the school.

… “Don’t be sad,” he told the shattered crowd. “Long after all those rams are dead and eaten this school will still stand. Haji Mehdi has food today. Now our children have education forever.” — p.152, 153

This is why Mitch Albom does not work for me: I read Tuesdays with Morrie, and I was not impressed at all. Some could get all emotional with the advices given, but all I saw was an old man with a lot to say before he dies. And mostly they are advices you probably would have figured out by yourself the more you put yourself out there in the world anyway.

There was no character growth, no suspense, no conflict, no climax. Just. One spoiled young man getting bitch slap verbally to his senses. You just wonder if Albom is writing self-help books, or just writing self-indulging books.

Three Cups of Tea may not have been as interesting if Greg Mortenson has not lived it. Merged together with David Oliver Relin’s appropriate writing style, it was published with enough dosage of descriptions on the destination, as well as the Muslim culture there, and also punchy facts that could grab you heart with one single sentence. He does not overdo his writing to grab anyone’s attention, because he knows that the story he is writing will already be good enough to do all the captivation.

The excerpt above is one of the more touching parts of the book. It showcased a wise old man, Haji Ali, who went faced with a thread or any problems life throws at him, would remain calm and let things unfold naturally in the name of Allah.

Heck, he even gave Mortenson a whopping when he was pushing against time on the people to build the school in Korphe, and also gave him a good scolding when he wandered into Waziristan without asking for help.

Another favourite character of mine would have to be Jean Hoerni, a former climber who hit the jackpot when he created a computer chip that is used widely till today in the Silicon Valley. It was funny the first time they spoke on the phone:

“I know what you’re after,” a sharp voice with a French accent interrupted. “Tell me, if I give you fund for your school, you’re not going to piss off to some beach somewhere in Mexico, smoke dope, and screw your girlfriend, are you?”

“I…” Mortenson said.

“What do you say?”

“No sir, of course not…”


“So. What, exactly, will your school cost?” Hoerni barked. Mortenson fed more quarters into the phone.

“I met with an architect and a contractor in Skardu, and priced out all the materials,” Mortenson said. “I want it to have five rooms, four for classes, and one common room for-”

“A number!” Hoerni snapped.

“Twelve thousand dollars,” Mortenson said nervously, “but whatever you’d like to contribute toward-”

“Is that all?” Hoerni asked, incredulous. “You’re not bullshitting? You can really build your school for twelve grand?” — p.55

Beats an old man sitting on his death bed giving mere lectures any day, don’t you think?

There will always be a reason out there for us for doing charities. We can tell ourselves that we don’t have the money of famous celebrities or millionaires, and that we are not capable of supporting even ourselves to help the less fortunates.

But here is Mortenson, who set up home in a self-storage box and sleep at the back of his car, eat $0.99 donuts for breakfasts and have $3.99 croissants and coffee for dinner, all because he want t o save a little more for his journeys back to Pakistan. And nobody else would offer donation because he was not a climber who scaled K2, but one who failed to.

Here is a poor helping an equally poor; what do you have to say for yourself now?

When you are reading Three Cups of Tea, don’t expect to be pulled into travelling there with Relin’s descriptions of the flowing Indus River, or the hustle and bustle of the Rajah Bazaar, or the innocence of Korphe Valley, or even the spectacle that is K2. Relin provided the dark side of this land, as blunt as it is supposed to be over there.

But Relin still managed to capture the readers with enough amount of descriptions merged with straightforward facts. I was grabbed instantly at the first chapter, titled ‘Failure’. Not only did Relin mentioned about Mortenson failing, he also talked about the many mountaineers who not only failed, but died, on the way down from K2 years before Mortenson’s attempt. Which shows that Relin did his homework when putting together this book.

The description on the Art Gilkey Memorial caught my attention specifically:

For two days, Mortenson and Darsney drifted in and out of the facsimile of sleep that high altitude inflicts on even those most exhausted. As the wind probed at their tents, it was accompanied by the sound of metal cook kit plates, engraved with the names of the forty-eight mountaineers who’d lost their lives to the Savage Mountain, clanging eerily on the Art Gilkey Memorial, named for a climber who died during a 1953 American expedition… But the number of metal plates chiming in the wind would multiply, as four of the sixteen climbers who summited that season died during their descent. — p.15

I look at the world today, and often question what has happened to us. A pregnant woman killed because another man’s greed for money to indulge his date. Families killed because of jealousy and desperation of another. Even in your everyday lives, drivers cannot even do the easiest decency of giving way on the road. It just makes me wonder if there is still any good left in this world.

But when I read Three  Cups of Tea, it moved me that somewhere out there, there is a man in a foreign country, doing his bit to make the world a better place. Out there somewhere, there is a community of people, who would still extend their helping hand and into their very own homes when you were lost and in need of hospitality. People, who has no idea who you are, would just volunteer to help you out in whatever you want to do without any prejudice. For a while, as long as you keep the pages turning, the world seems alright.

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6 Responses to “Book review: Three Cups of Tea”

  1. marycooke Says:

    Thanks, I really enjoyed reading your review!

  2. Linda Says:

    While I don’t necessarily agree with your assessments of Relin’s writing ability, your review provided an accurate picture of Mortenson’s mission to change the world. Good job and enjoyable read!!

    Check out my blog on the same topic:

    Keep on writing!!

    Linda A.

  3. Junnie Says:

    I read Mitch Albom’s five people you meet in heaven and was left sorely pondering if I was not cut out to enjoy good literature as everyone was singing praises about his book…I defos didn’t find his writing inspiring or flooring for me…maybe i will three 3 cups of tea it sounds interesting.

  4. Celeste Says:

    mary and linda: and thank you for stopping by. :]

    junnie: if you’re interested, you can get the book at borders with this coupon: if not, i can always loan you my copy when i come back. :]

  5. Mary Aloe Says:

    New here. Thanks

    Mary Aloe
    Proud Mary Entertainment

  6. ice tea Says:

    Very great article. I’ve found your page via Google and I’m very glad about the information you provide in your articles. I’ve skimmed through some of your pages and subscribed to your blog by adding your

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