For a book to be on the NY Times Paperback Bestseller list for 133 weeks (and counting), it must have very broad appeal. So I was surprised that this book wasn’t included on our blog until I reflected that it had been popular for long before we started the blog in February 2008. Our other blog contributors must have already read it but I was late to the Tea party: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This book is a publishing phenomenon. Not only are there the regular hardback and paperback editions, there are also the editions for 4 – 8 year olds, Listen to the Wind, and for ages 8 and up, Three Cups of Tea The Young Reader’s Edition which are also on their respective bestseller lists. All this success is well-deserved.
Mortensen’s life has been unusual from the beginning. Although he was born in the US, he spent the first 15 years of his life with his missionary parents in Tanzania. Living in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro stimulated his passion for mountain climbing. To honor his deceased sister he attempted to climb K2…but failed in his attempt because he rescued another climber. From that failure has come unimagined success. In gratitude to the villagers in this remote area of Pakistan who took him in and nursed him back to health, he promised to return and build a school. Fulfilling that promise took heroic effort and determination and is the substance of this book. Part of the story will have special appeal to those readers in the San Francisco Bay Area as this is where Mortenson started his fund-raising campaign. How hard he had to work to raise just a few thousand dollars when he started.
Now there are more than 77 schools, primarily for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As we read or hear every day of the worsening situations in both of those countries, we can only wonder how these schools are affected. The Taliban quickly recognized the threats that these schools posed and spent large amounts of money to surround them with madrassas.
Mortenson is generous in his praise and appreciation of the support he receives from his wife. Their romance is a heart-warming story. It would take a special person to bear with his prolonged absences and single-mindedness. Their home with their two children and the headquarters of his Central Asia Institute are now in Montana.
To learn more about their ongoing efforts to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, visit their website. The sequel Stones into Schools promises to continue his story when it is released in December 2009.