Mortenson, Greg and David Oliver Relin. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time. Penguin Books, 2006.
What started as a quest to climb K2 became a much loftier goal for Greg Mortenson when he decided to become humanitarian extraordinaire. Fueled by losing his father early to cancer and losing his sister early to epilepsy, Mortenson knew he had to find a way to help the children of Baltistan obtain some semblance of an education. This would be his life’s work. This would be his tribute to the family members he lost too soon. It didn’t hurt that missionary work was imprinted on his brain when, as a newborn, his parents packed him up and relocated from Minnesota to Tanzania. Furthermore, Mortenson’s father founded Tanzania’s first teaching hospital, giving Mortenson big shoes to fill. This is the story we are led to believe when we first crack open Three Cups of Tea. Mortensen is too good to be true. If he wasn’t saving a woman from death during childbirth, he was building a vocational center for women. If he wasn’t building schools in record time, he was buying desks, teachers’ salaries, and books. If he wasn’t getting an American cataract surgeon to offer free surgeries, he was sending another doctor for specialized training or digging wells for the village of Skardu. Is there anything Mortensen can’t do that didn’t involve his broad shoulders or big hands?
One of my favorite parts of Three Cups of Tea is Relin’s mention of two other world travelers who happen to be women, Isabella Bird and Dervla Murphy.
As an aside, here is what really irks me. Relin (remember him? the other author credited with writing Three Cups of Tea?); he readily admits he wrote Three Cups of Tea; that they were his words, but Mortenson had lived the story. Why doesn’t Relin get more credit? Why doesn’t he go on a book tour and lead Mortenson around like Exhibit A in show-and-tell? Is it because an investigation described Three Cups of Tea as fabricated and most likely an outright lie? Many of the reviews I read either praised Mortenson for his humanitarian work or vilified him for misappropriation of funds and exaggerating his experiences. The reviews talk about the person more than the actual writing. I admit, I got a little flack for reading Three Cups of Tea because of the scandal.
A favorite line, “A shard of California sun gleamed in the stuffed monkey’s scuffed plastic eyes…” (p 46). Mortenson’s memory or Relin’s imagination?
Book trivia: Three Cups of Tea won the Kiriyama Prize.
Author fact: Here’s what scandal can do to an innocent. Relin committed suicide after the facts of Three Cups of Tea were called into question.
Playlist: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”,
Nancy said: Pearl said Three Cups of Tea is popular. I am assuming this was true before the scandal. Pearl only credits Mortensen with the writing of Three Cups of Tea.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212).