Radical geezer Barbara Bick, a lifelong activist for peace and women’s rights (and an old colleague and friend of mine from our time together at the Institute for Policy Studies in the 1970s), has a new book out, called Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The review I’ve included below does a better job than I ever could of telling what the book is about and why it’s well worth reading. What makes it especially appropriate for a mention here on Unsilent Generation is the fact that it’s one of the very few few books in a genre that I’m going to call the Elder Activist Travelogue.
Books and articles about older people’s travels–which are rare enough to begin with–always seem to involve their heartwarming post-retirement sojourns, which usually take place in charming villages in Tuscany or the South of France. Barbara’s book is a completely different animal. Her multiple trips to Afghanistan, at ages 65 through 78, were made to observe and support the work of local women’s groups. She was gripped both by the country’s rugged beauty and by the stuggles of its people–and especially its women–against destructive forces both foreign and home-grown. The plight of Afghan women and girls became the obsession of her “golden years,” and drove her to return at some of the most intense and dangerous moments in Afghanistan’s history.
Barbara doesn’t pull punches about what it’s like to travel in rough terrain as an old person: Trapped in a remote northern compound after September 11, she worries about running out of her medications; when a helicopter finally arrives, she has to be hoisted in by several mujaheddin. But she prevails against these obstacles not only because of her own intrepid nature, but because she is driven by motives that go well beyond her own personal desire for adventure.
Here’s the review from this week’s Publishers Weekly of Walking the Precipice, which is available on Amazon.com.
Bick’s enthralling memoirs of her time in Afghanistan begin with her first travels in 1990, at the age of 65, and continue through two more visits, which gave the American activist and author (Culture and Politics) the rare opportunity to experience Afghanistan under the Communist, Taliban and Karzai regimes. While there, Bick traveled with a number of Afghan women, learning about their complex role in society, and developing a keen grasp of the fluid political rivalries. Bick’s final trip was to attend a conference affirming the Constitutional rights of Afghan women, a first, ceremonial step toward instigating positive change for women throughout the war-torn country.
In her tale, Bick produces a comprehensive political history of modern Afghanistan that distills deeply rooted tribal conflicts into terms Americans can easily grasp. While tracing her journey from the outside in, she makes her readers insiders too–without shying away from the drastic changes in perspective she gained on the way; in one of her most compelling and emotional episodes, Bick is witness to the assassination of moderate mujahadeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, a regional hero for many. By the end of the short but dense narrative, readers will have a far greater understanding of the region and the stakes under which its people labor.