The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul

In spring 2002, following the fall of the Taliban, Åsne Seierstad spent four months living with a bookseller and his family in Kabul.For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authoritiesbe they communist or Talibanto supply books to the people of Kabul.

He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists, and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street.

He even resorted to hiding most of his stockalmost ten thousand booksin attics all over Kabul.But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and his hatred of censorship, he also has strict views on family life and the role of women.

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We don't even know how she interacted with the family because she writes herself out of the book entirely. She somehow thinks that she hasn't effected the family's life and that she can just describe them as if there is not some strange white woman sitting on the floor taking notes as they live their lives.

I know for a fact that no one in the comparatively progressive world would want to be a woman in Afghan society after reading this book, even more so after living in the country for some time by himself/herself. The women want education and a job, the children want to play, young men and women of the country want to fall in love in spite of knowing the dire consequences, and Sultan Khan wants to contribute towards building a better and liberal Afghanistan, a country which he can boast of to the world.

Sua Majestade O Islamismo A queda dos Taliban no Afeganistão surtiu alguma abertura no que toca à condição da mulher. A família é um micro-mundo com leis próprias, e se um pater familiae entender que é mais vantajoso vender as filhas (há homens abastados no Afeganistão que pagam avultadas quantias para casar com jovens adolescentes) para casamento, ou simplesmente usá-las como escravas domésticas, adeus escola, adeus carreira, adeus trabalho!... Entre outros, a autora conta um episódio chocante em que uma mulher é sufocada até à morte pelos próprios irmãos, como punição por se encontrar furtivamente com o amante.

Enter the world of the Norwegian journalist, Åsne Seierstad, who covers the aftermath of the Taliban on society in Afghanistan, and you get what you could expect, but still hope you're wrong: a 'pseudo-novelistic' attempt at exposing the life of a country in turmoil / vicious power struggles / chaos. Coming from a liberal Norwegian society, and being a young journalist, it is expected that the book will be written from a pessimistic, typical journalistic point of view. In fact, I struggled to get into this 'novel' - for nothing in the book presented any characteristics expected of a novel. Bottom line: the journalist was disgusted with the whole set-up and pushed it down my throat with my consent. Compared to "A Thousand Splendid Suns" written by Khaled Hosseini, this was a memoir, an optimistic attempt by a writer to cross the bridge between being an investigative journalist to novelist and just not succeeding very well. The fact that she stayed three months with Sultan, the book seller, and his extended family, allowed her insight into their lives that is not showered upon many westerners. It is always a matter of choice if you want to find out.

Asne Seirstadt writes an honest and candid account of her four months of life with an Afghan family, following the fall of the Taliban and the end of the reign of terror they subjected the Afghan people to. Even after the Taliban were overthrown women and girls feared going out alone or dressing as they pleased, because of the residue of terror that the Taliban had left behind. Seirstadt masterfully covers the sights, sounds and smells of Afghanistan from the cramped life in people's houses where extended families lived together to the bazaars and the 'hamman', the massive communal bath, where thousands of women cleaned themselves and their children on certain days of the week.

(view spoiler)It is odd really that the USA ended up raining bombs on the Taliban.

You think, after reading the forward and the beginning of the book, that the bookseller will be a progressive man, but his love for his country's history and its literary heritage is his only redeeming quality and yet the very reason he is such a bastard toward his family. Ironically, at one point in the book, a hotel guard in the worst territory in Afghanistan, observing one of Khan's family members helping an American journalist operate a satellite phone, the likes of which the hotel guard has never seen, says "Do you know what our problem is?

  • English

  • Nonfiction

  • Rating: 3.77
  • Pages: 288
  • Publish Date: October 26th 2004 by Little, Brown and Company
  • Isbn10: 0316159417
  • Isbn13: 9780316159418