Book Review: “The Places In Between” by Rory Stewart (pub: 2004 Picador)

The horrific scenes this week of people trying to flee Afghanistan at Kabul airport, people being crushed, women throwing their babies over barbed wire fences supposedly to safety, has shown us this week how absolute is the plight of the Afghan people, since the U.S. and the U.K. have pulled out their presence, and allowed the Taliban to encroach on every inch of the land.

A while ago, a friend sent me the book of Rory Stewart’s walk across Afghanistan, and this week I felt this was the right time to read it, while all our thoughts were trained on the tragedy that has befallen its people.  Another friend this week commented that Rory Stewart would have made a better Foreign Secretary, especially in the light of Dominic Raab taking his eye of the ball when the crisis erupted last Sunday.

The book is an absolute gem, giving a picture of Afghanistan in 2002, between the events of 9/11 and the added turbulence in the Middle East of the 2003 Iraq war.  I will look at Rory Stewart’s chart, that of Afghanistan, and the current transits; I will also try and convey the joys of the book.


(A Potted History): Afghanistan has a long history of internal strife and interference by foreign conquerors, and the 20th and 21st Centuries have been no different.  In 1979, the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan.  In response, the Mujahadeen rebels united against them.  In 1988 the group Al-Qaida was formed, with Osama Bin Laden prominent amongst them, proclaiming a holy war against the Soviets, their aim being an Islamic state.  In 1995 a newly formed militia known as the Taliban arose.  At the time of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., prime suspect Osama Bin Laden was thought to have been living in Afghanistan.  The U.S./Afghan war started in October 2001.  Bin Laden was killed in 2011, and  by 2013 NATO forces had trained the Afghan army to take over operations.  From then on, the intention of U.S. policy was to reduce their military presence in Afghanistan.  Last February, Trump signed a deal with the Taliban without reference to allies or to the Afghan government.  In April this year, Biden warned that the U.S. would be pulling out completely, and by last Sunday, the Taliban had taken over Kabul.

Sharia Law

The Taliban say they will rule according to the system of Sharia law, which is Islam’s legal system, derived from the Koran and the sayings of  Prophet Muhammed.

Rory Stewart wrote: “The Taliban and the majority of Afghans are Sunni Muslims. The Hazara Shia saw themselves as more civilised, more mystical, more tolerant towards women and other faiths. The Taliban saw the Shia as heretics or infidels. They thought the Shia reverence for saints’ shrines and pictures of the prophet’s family, and their respect for the twelve Imams (or leaders), was idol worship….”

The Chart of Afghanistan

For the Afghanistan chart, I use the 1973 version (there is a 1919 version).  Interestingly, it is the same year that Rory Stewart was born, so the outer planets are in alignment and in harmony with his chart.  In the Afghanistan chart, the Sun is exactly conjunct the I.C. in Cancer in  3rd House, possibly symbolic of its own struggle to retain its own power and unity.  The Moon is exactly conjunct Jupiter at the end of the 9th House, emphasizing the importance and idealistic fervour of the religious struggles of this country (Jupiter and 9th House representing religion).

The chart of the Afghanistan War itself – 7 Oct 2001 4.25 pm Kabul – is revealing: it has Chiron on the Midheaven in Sagittarius (wounding, and the attempt to heal, in a religious context).  Mars was exactly square the Afghanistan chart Mars, representing the ignition of a war.

 In current transits, Saturn is on the natal Afghanistan Moon/Jupiter in 9th House, describing the results of foreign abandonment.  Pluto is opposite the natal Sun in 9th House, and transiting by conjunction the natal Midheaven in Capricorn in 9th House, a moment of destruction and change, all to do with foreign involvement in the country.

Rory Stewart Birthchart

In his Element balance, Rory has 0 Water planets.  That can mean low emotionality, but in Rory’s character I think it shows objectivity: He records, in his book, sometimes shocking events and conversations with no trace of judgment.

He has Jupiter closely conjunct north node in Capricorn, twin themes of his karmic mission: to travel and to be a politician.  In addition, he has Mars conjunct Neptune in Sagittarius (more wanderlust).

Rory Stewart’s relationship with Afghanistan also reveals exactly trined Venuses (Love; he met his wife there), and healing (Rory’s Venus exactly trine the Afghanistan Chiron).

His Book

I don’t want to give out too many spoilers. His stories would be fascinating on their own, but in addition are seen through the lens of a fine mind and a character with a uniquely interesting take on life.

Rory has a distinctly gaunt appearance, and Capricorn can incline towards asceticism.  He certainly seem to endure the prospect of sometimes days on end of having only stale bread and sweet tea for sustenance.

The walk took 36 days, and took place in early 2002.  Rory Stewart modelled his trek on the earlier journey of founder of the Mughal empire Babur (1383 – 1530) whose poetic writings he quotes extensively.  Babur was born in Uzbekistan and was indirectly a descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlaine.  Babur was born with the Sun in Aquarius, and even mentions the sign in his memoirs:

My desire for Hindustan had been constant. It was in the month of Shaban, the Sun being in Aquarius, that we rode out of Kabul for Hindustan

There are some stunning similarities between his chart and Rory’s.  Babur has the Moon conjunct Mercury, like Rory Stewart, across late Capricorn and early Aquarius on the cusp.  Rory has the Moon conjunct Mercury, across the late Sagittarius/early Capricorn cusp.  Both have Neptune in Sagittarius (within 3 degrees of each other) closely sextile their natal Plutos in Libra (within 6 degrees of each other): that is quite remarkable, and may account for some of their shared life themes and aims in their contemporary contexts.  Might Rory be a reincarnation of Babur?

Rory describes every step of his journey:

 “I wandered down the womanless street, listening to the rich roar of the unemployed mullahs and the illiterate gunmen discussing cousin-marriage.”

He describes a constant refrain from its people (at the time):

 “There has been war for twenty-four years. There is no water. The villagers are poor, illiterate, mad and dangerous. Afghanistan is destroyed”

He is often poetic and lyrical:

“The snow had continued during the night, covering my stumbling tracks to the house. The air was cold and dry; the sky was a dark blue and the snow crust glittered. Sheets of ice spun across the surface of the swollen current.”

I would thoroughly recommend this best-selling book, to read at any time, but especially now if you want to be connected to the soul of the country.


Rory Stewart wandered through the literal minefields and the metaphorical minefields of this territory.  His book is a very worthwhile read, the opportunity to mourn for a lost country.

What has happened was predictable, knowing the U.S. policy and intentions, though the consequences moved faster than anticipated. and it will take a long time for Afghanistan to heal, and to deal with the traumas of the past.

“The US should not be in the business of spreading democracy by force. We seem to have learned nothing from Vietnam, let alone the US’ long history of instigating and interfering in regime changes. Instead of providing a model of a functioning democracy and human rights through the use of soft power to influence other countries, we come in charging with massive military to change the political landscape, only to end up retreating and delivering the country straight to insurgent forces.”

~ Alon Ben Meir, U.S expert on Middle East politics and affairs



This morning began with a trine between Venus and the North Node, which is harmonious and loving, with karmic notes.

The next aspect was Mars trine Uranus, which can bring great excitement!  In science, technology and mechanics there could be progress and advances.  Engineering and electrical themes also benefit, so sparks fly, but in a good way!  You may also notice some bold and controversial moves.

Around midday the Moon is Full in Aquarius.  Numerological repetition note for enthusiasts: 22 August 2021, at 12.02 p.m.  This occurs at 29 degrees Aquarius, right at the end of the sign, and conjoins the Moon.  There is even a resonance with the Afghanistan chart, which has the Moon conjunct Jupiter in Aquarius – certainly sympathies lie with that war torn land at this moment in time.  For us, in safer climates (with the luxury of not having to rush to the airport), we might be torn by looking at an issue emotionally, then from a detached perspective, then back and forth.  This may produce a stand off between the individual and the group.

As if that were not enough for one day, in the evening the Sun enters Virgo.  The need for knuckling down conscientiously to work and study schedules is reinforced.  The Sun in Virgo will underline the need for a sense of focus and purpose.  Efficiency and Economy will be watchwords for how we organize the second half of our year.  There may be a new resolve to institute health and fitness regimes, and work rotas and practices.  You may be thinking ahead to September courses.

Tomorrow, Monday (23rd) in the third trine of the week already, which can’t be bad, Venus trines Saturn.  This brings hope, of people coming together with more commitment and loyalty.  Venus can provide a softening role to a hard line stance.  It is conciliatory, which may be just what is needed.  Relationships may need serious resolving, and this aspect can help, whether on a personal level, or between the North and South.

In the early hours of Wednesday (25th) Neptune opposes Mercury.  This opposition brings confusion in the mind.  There may be for instance a mental dilemma, or a demand for clarification.  It may be difficult to focus, if you are engaged in documentation work.  Journeys may be long and complicated.  You may need to take care near water.

A fourth trine on Thursday (26th) brings mental harmony, with Mercury trine Pluto.  If you have been treading water, you’ll meet your rescue vessel, so to speak.  That aspect is conducive to deep thought and psychological reflection, and earnest conversations.  It is good for in-depth consultations and negotiations.

It’s a week in which much progress can be made.

The week in bullet-points:

  • Today – it’s all “go”; karmic love; excitement; emotional high-tide; knuckling down
  • Monday – loyalty and commitment
  • Wednesday – mental fog and confusion
  • Thursday – deep consultations