Title: The Bookseller of Kabul
Author: Asne Seierstad
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, History
First published: 2003
Finished reading: May 19th 2013
“What the sounds and smells do not divulge, gossip supplies. It spreads like wildfire in the neighborhood, where everyone is watching one another’s morals.”
I’m not sure what to think of this one. After having read works of Khaled Hosseini, this interpretation of life in Afghanistan doesn’t seem that believable to me. Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who spent four months living with an Afghan family in Kabul. She then (in my opinion) makes the mistake to tell us a story of the bookseller Sultan Khan and his family based on her own rather colored observations. That alone maybe isn’t that bad, but she wrote herself out of the story and wants to make us to believe everything she wrote is an exact representation of the family life of the Khan family. And that honestly I cannot believe. She only spent four months with the family, and she was only able to talk to the only three members who know the English language. So how on earth would she be able to understand and know the feelings of a family with a culture so different from her own? The story itself is not bad, but if you want to learn more about how is life really like in Afghanistan, I would recommend not even touching this one.
The story is about Sultan Khan and his family. For a long time he has been supplying books to the people of Kabul even though it has been prohibited by various authorities like the communists or the Taliban. He didn’t get away unpunished: he was arrested and imprisoned by the communists, and the Talibans burned books on the street. He still continues his job as a bookseller, and at the same time has rather strict views on how his family has to live their lifes. Women and men are strictly separated, and women besides have to move within a restricted space.
Asne Seierstad doesn’t believe in this discrimination of women and it shows too much in the story. Maybe good enough to pass as a novel written from a Western world point of view, but it fails to show how it’s really like to live in Afghanistan. And I doubt the Khan family shared all their emotions and family secrets to a total stranger. All in all for me a disappointment.
I remember the author being criticised in the media after the book became a bestseller, as I don’t think the family benefited, or if they did, it wasn’t by much, when she profited. I have got this, and her new book, One Of Us, about Anders Breivik, waiting to be read.
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The worst part of this book is that she wants to make the reader believe she is giving an authentic portrait of the family life of the Khan family, when it is painfully clear she is basing her facts on her own colorful opinions. And like you, I don’t think the family saw much benefit after she saw the money coming in.
Since One Of Us is about the massacre in Norway, it does have a lot more potential to be a good story though.