By Chet Yarbrough
I Wouldn’t Start From Here: The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong
By Andrew Mueller
Narrated by Dennis Holland
The irony and voice inflection of the narrator, Dennis Holland, gives presence to Mueller’s writing. With Mueller’s words and Holland’s narration, it seems you are there with Mueller, listening, observing, and living in the scene. (Holland’s voice inflections and accents make you smile.)
What makes Mueller’s book engrossing is citizen engagement in some of the most troubled areas of the world. Though taxi drivers are not unique commentators, Mueller wryly uses his conversation with a Georgian taxi driver to make convincing points about deteriorated infrastructure and Georgia’s fatalistic acceptance of things as they are in this former Soviet state.
Even though Mueller irreverently attacks 21st century world condition, his insight into human nature tickles your sense of humor; even when reporting the tragic direction of many world conflicts. He mocks the appearance and beliefs of different cultures but sobers the listener with past tragedies, realities, and imagined futures.
Mueller visits Ramallah to report the dismal condition and prospects of young Palestinians on their small patch of earth. He tries to walk a line between cultures to explain why the gulf between Palestinians and Jews seems irreconcilable. You may question his objectivity but comments from people he meets rattle your conscience.
The consequence of our Iraq incursion is mercilessly described in Baghdad interviews. Mueller reports an Arab thank-you (for getting rid of Saddam Hussein), along with a despairing comment about loss of security, stability, electricity, and national pride.
Mueller talks to an Irish overseer in Bosnia/Herzegovina and concretely reveals the tragedy of the Serb, Croat and Bosnian populations; the destruction of families and the destitution of those that have been left behind by the senseless slaughter of husbands, wives, and children.
From Kabul to China (a trip of imagination for most people) is a real trek for this chronicler. Mueller savages Taliban atrocity in Afghanistan while making an ironic observation of an Ashura celebration. The celebration is a bloody self flagellation ceremony (forbidden by the Taliban) which, now, can be conducted because of UN intervention in Afghanistan. (An example of one of many unintended consequences when orders come from the top down, particularly from an outside culture.)
Mueller, arriving in Albania, notes that some consider it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. His interviews show the desire for freedom and independence, and surprisingly, an underlying acceptance of ethnic diversity (including Serbian residents in Albania). Mueller’s conversation with an Albanian that lived through the Serbian slaughter of Albanian Muslims is a concrete symbol of tentative acceptance.
For a man who writes about Rock and Roll in magazines like “Rolling Stone”, Mueller is a consummate observer of a world that has a lot of Rack and Ruin. He seems a very brave and fool hardy adventurer that can write with truth and (maybe) a little truthiness.