Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth

I can finally recommend something related to the Three Cups of Tea story.

Remember how I hated listening to the audiobook of Three Cups of Tea, which felt like a journalistic report despite being called a memoir? My mother loved Three Cups of Tea and thought it was wonderful, so I enlisted her help in writing my post for Rebecca Reads: I shared a Counterpoint post, with each of us writing our thoughts of the book.

Long story short: The issue of my “hating” Three Cups of Tea was revived last week by someone who wasn’t so happy with my very scathing review. Hate, apparently, is too strong a word, considering Greg Mortenson is in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize. (FYI, apparently more than 100 people are nominated each year.) Despite that, I still thought that the character described in the book is not a likeable person: he’s a bit too flighty for me to trust with my money. Besides, the book dragged along with horribly unnecessary details. I had to reiterate to my visitor that I have no intention of rereading Three Cups of Tea, but if the story were completely rewritten I may revisit the issue. (I said, “If Greg’s story is rewritten by a different author in a completely revamped structure, I may consider revisiting it.”)

Well, it has been rewritten. Twice.

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth is a children’s picture book, told from the perspective of the children of Korphe.

First the children tell us a bit about their life:

We make our own games, and we make our own toys.

Then they tell us that before their school was built, they had lessons outside.

We wrote with sticks, on the ground.

Then they tell how a stranger stumbled in to their village, cold, hungry, and sick. They helped him get better and, because he was trained as a nurse, he helped the sick people of Korphe get better.

For those of you who know the story of Three Cups of Tea, you’ll know that “Dr. Greg,” as he was known, asked Haji Ali how he could help the people of Korphe. Haji Ali told him to “listen to the wind,” and Greg decided that what he needed to do most was build a school for the children of Korphe. Of course, he then returns to Korphe a year later and the people of the village all help him build a bridge and a school.

The story is perfectly put together. There are no extraneous details: no tales of Greg sleeping in his car, no horribly boring details about Greg’s girlfriend dumping him, no details that show that Greg is horribly foolish. The fact that he arrives with supplies for the school before recalling the need to make a bridge becomes part of the story – not an annoying “duh! Didn’t you know better?!” moment, as it felt in Three Cups of Tea.

In the end, I loved the story because of the children of Korphe, which is what I thought Three Cups of Tea should have been about in the beginning. The person of Greg Mortenson was not all that interesting to me: the children who went to school on the ground should always have been the theme.

Sample page from Listen to the Wind, Courtesy Amazon
Sample page from Listen to the Wind, Courtesy Amazon

The illustrations are collages, which I personally liked but may be an acquired taste. In the afterward, the illustrator clarifies that, since the art (for example, the hats) of Korphe uses recycled goods from the West (such as broken zippers and stray computer chips), she used recycled papers for her pages too.

I disliked one thing about the book, and that was the supernatural “Listen to the Wind” theme. It was a bit odd. The book ends with “We are the children of Korphe. Can you hear our voices? Listen to the wind…” It just felt like a weird ending.

The afterward provides photographs and further details about Korphe and Three Cups of Tea, ending with this statement:

A penny in the United States doesn’t even buy a piece of gum, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan, one penny buys a pencil, and one dollar funds one child’s education for a whole month.

That gives me chills. I now want to donate to the cause, something that Three Cups of Tea completely turned me off to.

To fund one child’s education for a whole month for just $1, visit http://www.penniesforpeace.org.

I highly recommend Listen to the Wind. If you could not get through Three Cups of Tea, I don’t blame you: but give this one a try. The story is inspiring!

I also have the new “Young Reader’s” edition on reserve at the library; I’m hoping it is likewise more approachable than the original Three Cups of Tea.

If you have reviewed Listen to the Wind on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I’m sorry you had a mean comment; I had to use editorial discretion once because of that. I’m glad you enjoyed the kid’s book more; I gave up on the audio of Three Cups of Tea, so I’m totally with you. 🙂

  2. I saw that children’s version a couple days ago at B&N, as well as a book that looked about elementary to middle school level. It had a different set of photographs in it and I wondered if it’d be any better. The picture book was beautiful. I didn’t have time to read it, but I leafed through it and loved the collages.

  3. Eva, oh it wasn’t too mean — just opinionated against my opinion, telling me how unfair I am to call book about a Nobel Peace Prize contender badly written. I also personally thought the character described in the book (who happens to be up for the Nobel Peace Prize) was a loser, so that also didn’t win any brownie points 😉

    I don’t care if someone disagrees with me — no need to censor that! And if someone thinks my blog is dumb because I hate Three Cups of Tea, so be it. No hard feelings! ETA 2/27/09 — I take that back. He got pretty mean. I thought it was a pretty bad book.

    Amanda, this is the picture book one — beautifully done and highly recommended. I have the other one on reserve at the library. I’m hoping it’s also well done.

  4. I’m glad you found a version of this story that was redeeming. I happened to like Three Cups of Tea, but maybe reading it was better than listening to it. I wasn’t bothered by the bridge thing. As Americans, that’s just not the type of thing we generally think about. If you’re planning on building something, you think about the materials you need, the labor, the money, but it’s sort of a given that you will be able to get all the stuff there. To his credit, he DID get the bridge built and got the school built, so he gets points in my mind for persistence and integrity. Had I been in his position, I’m pretty sure I would have just crumpled up into a ball and started crying when I realized there was no bridge!

  5. The audio is grating. I am listening to it right now. Books that I would ordinarily like very much can be utterly destroyed by the wrong narrator in the audio version. However, whatever lacks in the storytelling or the reading is made up by the power of the purpose.

  6. I very much enjoyed Three Cups of Tea. I’m afraid you missed the spirit and essence of the storynot to have liked it. Maybe because I was in many of the places Greg was in during the 1970’s traveling wth a backpack, I could relate to the story. I spent two months north of Chitral in Grand Cheesma, a small village. The people there were wonderful to me. Many had never seen an American, but their hospitality outdid any found in San Francisco where I was from.
    The natural curosity of the children was fascinating to me. I traveled with my guitar and played American and English folk music for them and they wanted to learn the words and music. I have always wanted to go back and now perhaps visit some of the schools Dr. Greg established.

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