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An Unexpected Light

Travels in Afghanistan


New York Times Bestseller

Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph Award 2000

Notable Books Awards, Nonfiction Winner (USA)

Jason Elliot is that rare traveller who surrenders himself to people and places:  he does not impose himself and his preconceptions. Woven into this account of dangerous adventuring is an astonishing amount of information about Afghanistan’s history, its religion, its arts, and for this alone it is worth a place on a permanent shelf.  I am sure this book will soon be among the classics of travel.

Doris Lessing

An Unexpected Light is everything a travel book should be - truly memorable

Eric Newby

A tour de force of travel and memory:  vividly evocative, courageous and self-aware. I admired it enormously.

Colin Thubron

An astonishing debut: one of the most remarkable travel books this decade

William Dalrymple

‘A work of substance and style, witty and moving by turns, never less than wholly passionate...what raises the book to the level of a classic is its intensely personal meditation on the magic of unplanned adventure, of the pain and pleasure of pushing into the unknown. The whole book, like Elliot’s travels themselves, operates on this heightened level.’

The Times

‘He writes with a verve that recalls Patrick Leigh Fermor’s historical dexterity in ‘A Time of Gifts’… An Unexpected Light is often unexpectedly funny and constantly perceptive, but it is also profound.’

New York Times (full review here)

‘An Unexpected Light has the pace of a good novel.  It is a tightly written mixture of action and anecdote, backed up by historical, sociological and anthropological explanation, and with discussion of military tactics and much more thrown in. The author has produced a book that constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of one of the most complex of contemporary crises.’

Literary Review

‘If Elliot hasn’t already been likened to T. E. Lawrence, then I’ll do the honours now’


‘Jason Elliot is an entertaining companion in a heartbreaking land, and his stylish prose is laced with intelligent analysis of a culture startlingly remote from our own. You can’t ask much more than that from a travel book, can you?’


‘A skilful prose writer, decorously arranging a mix of history, politics and his own travel experiences’

Time Out

‘An absorbing and beautifully written work . . . a remarkable debut’


‘A brilliantly observant writer’

Daily Telegraph

‘Elliot’s observational gems, when glimpsed as a whole, offer a fascinating mosaic of revelations…Illuminating, astute, and timely’

USA Today

‘Elliot is an enthralling writer with a great gift for evoking places, people and atmosphere’

LA Times

‘An extraordinary adventure story told with great lyricism’

Moscow Times

‘The journey is fabulous…Elliot writes like an angel’

The Providence Journal

‘Elliot has combined his ability to get by in some of the world’s most extreme circumstances with sufficient learning, a huge empathy for the Afghans and a rare gift for description. The result is the strongest debut you are likely to read this year’

Sunday Times

‘Humorous, honest and wry...Elliot’s literary talents are exceptional. His sonorous prose moves forward with the purposeful grace of a river’

Publishers Weekly