It’s no secret that I hated Three Cups of Tea.
Like, so much. It is, to quote myself, a ‘piece of emotionally manipulative clap-trap.’ There should be a hyphen in that sentence, Former Self. But even while I was decrying the unnecessary heroization, I admitted that Greg and his schools were accomplishing Good Things and that I, as a pants-less, Dorito-eating blogger, have no right to point and laugh.
But Jon Krakauer does. He is a fucking journalist, y’all, and one who has donated many moneys (like, 75 000 moneys) to the Greg Mortenson Amusement Fund, Which Occasionally Builds Schools But Not As Often As You (Or Its Other Benefactors) Think.
Which is why, though you could make the opposing argument that Krakauer’s book is a heap of filthy lies, I feel ok putting stock in it. Krakauer cites memos from (for example) Debbie Raynor, CAI’s one-time CFO and Real Person, to prove that CAI had spent $270 000 on who knows what there are no receipts for things. Presumably, if Raynor is not in fact a Real Person, or if this alleged memo is misrepresented, the real Debbie Raynor will please stand up. This is what happens when you make claims in print. Take notes, G.Mort and co.
Also, Krakauer is a dude with a reputation to uphold who gains nothing from writing this book, except modest and unnecessary exposure, whereas Mortenson was a dude who is now a famous dude with riches. Cui bono, says I. (Before this review devolves into a garment-rending screed *SCREED IMMINENT*, let me quickly actually review the book by saying that it is journalisty and Krakauerian and well-organized and SHORT.)
The gist! I have completely forgotten to give you the gist. Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, builds schools. But not as many as claimed, and many of those stand abandoned due to lack of funding and care, and much of the money donated – which Mortenson refuses to keep track of or account for – is frittered away on private jets and family vacations, OH AND the whole episode in Three Cups in which Mortenson staggers weakly yet heroically into a mountain village after having rescued an inept hiker and in doing so ALAS failing to summit the peak, is cared for by the villagers, and so vows to build them a school, that story is APOCRYPHAL which is fancy-speak for NOT PARTICULARLY TRUE (according to the other dudes who were WITH! HIM! ON! THAT! HIKE! Always kill your witnesses, guys).
Understandably, some people just want to believe and to exculpate, and so say things like But at least he built SOME schools and really that’s all that matters. And let’s leave aside for a minute that taking millions of dollars out of the hands of benevolently-minded people and using it to fund your fondness for jet-travel is arguably akin to taking that same money out of the hands of the next charities who come a-knocking at those benevolent doors. But Mortenson and co. said some turrible things about people kind enough to HOST him, turrible things like that they had KIDNAPPED HIM. A photo published in Stones into Schools captions a handful of men as those having ‘abducted’ and ‘detained’ Mortenson, which schlocky and self-aggrandizing tale you can find in Three Cups of Tea. Other photos NOT published show those same dudes WITH Mortenson, palling around and letting him try on their guns and having other dude-bro adventures. Which, whatever, Mortenson’s story is way better (no it is not. It is overly-adjectived and braggy. But it makes for more incoming moneys) but it SLANDERS REAL PEOPLE WHO EXIST FOR REAL! (Libels them, I mean. If there’s one thing I learned from The Hudsucker Proxy, it’s that if it’s in print, it’s libel.) Real people = someone will out you, but also that you are doing real, active harm rather than just negligent, lazy harm.
All of which has me equal parts angry and confused. Angryfused. Baffurious. How do you claim things like having been to see the freshly-dead Mother Teresa in 2000 when Mother Teresa died in 1997? That isn’t even a difficult-to-confirm-fact like your ostensible abduction. That is easily Wikipediable PEOPLE ARE GOING TO KNOW THESE THINGS, and that will lead them to check your OTHER things, and you know you cannot stand up to any sort of checking, which is why you refused for so long to hire an administrator.
I don’t want to get into All The Things (ok, any More Of The Things [like how CAI receives no royalties from Mortenson’s books yet pays the expenses for writing said books, including writers’ advances, travel expenses, and advertising. Ok, I swear that was the last thing]) because Three Cups of Deceit is only 75 pages long and a much better (and a less capsy) read than this review and you can find it online here. So read that, if you are interested in learning more Things/checking the endnotes/supporting the Stop Girl Trafficking project (to which all proceeds from TCoD are donated)/having your ire thoroughly raised.
I am going to go have A Sad, because even though Three Cups of Tea was a REALLY SHITTY BOOK, it was a really shitty book full of hope and compassion and tales of good doings. I wanted it to be true.
Eight caterpillars, despite having given me the Blinding Rage.