The Bookseller Of Kabul

By Asne Seierstad.

Click for larger image.
Click for larger image.

Asne is an award winning Norwegian journalist and author of various books. As well as The Bookseller Of Kabul, she also wrote With Their Backs To The Wall: Portraits From Serbia.

The Bookseller of Kabul is written in such a way that it can be read like a novel. It relates the true story of a period in the lives of Sultan Khan and his family, living in Kabul, Afghanistan. Originally written in Norwegian, I occasionally wonder if anything is ever lost in translation.

The book is the result of Asne’s stay with the Khan family, for a period of time in 2002. She stayed in their home, living as they lived, with all the family knowing that she was permitted by Sultan to be there with the intention of writing a book. She has spent hours interviewing and chatting with Khan and his family, to compile what became The Bookseller Of Kabul.

Asne gives us a vivid picture of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and how things begin to change there, becoming more liberal, after their fall. Even after Afghanistan is freed from that oppressive regimen, though, life by western standards was not easy some might say impossible unless you had been brought up in the culture.

Although the book presents the reader with a coherent story of the Khan family, the way that at different times it focusses on particular family members also seems to give a series of connected short stories that could almost be read independently.

For me, and I think maybe for any reader of a western religion or no religion, it did give a little bit better appreciation, I hesitate to say understanding, of life guided by the Islamic faith and culture. Though given the strictures on women in the Afghan culture, I assume, and am open to correction, that at least some of the descriptive parts of her book are from second hand accounts, not by direct experience.

While her book might not engender actual sympathy, certainly not for Sultan Khan, readers might find it will slightly soften their attitude to the Afghani people, the majority of which, as I understand it, did not support and often suffered under the Taliban.


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