Fans of Three Cups of Tea, the non-fiction book about building schools for rural children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, awoke to news this morning that one of its two authors, David Oliver Relin, had died at the age of 49 in what the authorities said was suicide.
Family members said only that Mr Relin had “suffered from depression”. The New York Times said he had been hurt “emotionally and financially” by allegations that some parts of Three Cups of Tea had been fabricated.
The book was advertised as having been co-authored by Mr Relin and Greg Mortenson. It relates the efforts of Mr Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, to build the schools in remote areas. Doubts about the book were raised last year by the current affairs programme, 60 Minutes. The report featured allegations by fellow author Jon Krakauer. He questioned the claim that Mr Mortenson launched his school-building drive after being rescued in Pakistan following a botched mountaineering expedition.
There were also allegations in the 60 Minutes report that some of the schools either didn’t exist or had been built by someone else. Mr Mortenson acknowledged that the book contained some mistakes and that time periods had been compressed. Mr Relin never spoke publicly about the charges though he hired a lawyer to help defend his reputation.
The controversy was fuelled when four readers filed a lawsuit claiming they had been defrauded because the book was an exercise in glorifying Mr Mortensen and his charity. The case was thrown out earlier this year.
Deputy medical examiner of Multnomah County, Oregon, Peter Bellant, said Mr Relin had died on 14 November from a head injury.