The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul

Book - 2003
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Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Åsne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict there. In the following spring she returned to live with an Afghan family for several months.

For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities - be they communist or Taliban - to 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 stock in attics all over Kabul.

But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and hatred of censorship, he is also a committed Muslim with strict views on family life. As an outsider, Seierstad is able to move between the private world of the women - including Khan's two wives - and the more public lives of the men. And so we learn of proposals and marriages, suppression and abuse of power, crime and punishment. The result is a gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.

Publisher: Boston : Little, Brown, 2003
ISBN: 9780316726054
0316726052
9780316734509
0316734500
Branch Call Number: 958.1 SEI 2003 22
Characteristics: xv, 287 p. ; 19 cm
Additional Contributors: Christophersen, Ingrid

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This profile of a highly literate but tyrannical businessman (and his long-suffering family) shows how enormous are the gulfs between generations and genders in Afghanistan, and how difficult it will be to bridge them in the near (100 years? 1,000 years?) future.

j
jazpur
Sep 20, 2016

An intimate and compelling account of the customs, attitudes and religious belief at family level in a war torn country. Asne Seierstad has gone a long way towards making the incomprehensible comprehensible telling the story of the Khan family in Afghanistan.

d
DorisWaggoner
Dec 26, 2015

This memoir is by a Norwegian journalist who spends several months living with an "elegant, erudite" bookseller and his family in Kabul. He, his youngest sister, and eldest son, speak good English, but the rest of the extended family (13 at one point) who share four rooms, do not. These three are her interpreters on the Afghan world. She reports from their point of view, even when she accompanies one or another of them, or another relative. The bookseller (she changes the names, though they do not ask her to) appears very liberal in his ardent desire to preserve the literature of his culture. Yet he's very traditional in his home life. He keeps his younger sons from getting an education, so they can help run his "empire," and rides herd on the women of his household. Sometimes I wish she'd have been more open about her presence in the action of the story. She says in the beginning that she'd never been more angry or felt more like hitting someone than when living with them. The issue was "always how the men treated the women." Yet you'd never know she was there. This has nothing to do with the book itself, but I also wonder how the 12 years since its publication, 12 more years of war, have affected the life of this middle class family in Kabul. An important book, given the lack of other views on "real life" in this important country.

i
IV27HUjg
Sep 07, 2015

This would likely be helpful to US readers...need ebook or LP please!!

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

An intimate and unusual account of a Norwegian journalist’s four month stay with an Afghan bookstore owner and his family. The bookseller, on the surface a liberal intellectual, is a tyrannical patriarch in private, and perpetuates his society’s repression of women. Seierstad’s revelations of the situation Afghan women face are shocking and depressing.

k
krken2000
Jan 10, 2015

I learned a lot about the daily grin of living in Afghanistan. How little boys order gown women about. How there is little food and amenities. How there is erratic water and electricity. What a miserable life for the Afghan women and girls as they have little say about their destiny, yet they make due and can be happy about the little things.

r
readlisten
Sep 06, 2013

Fascinating. Compelling non-fiction book about people and a society not our own. The characters are fully illuminated and the other-worldness of their lives well deliniated.
The author does show a degree of western judgementalism, however. Nonetheless, one is grateful that one is a woman in western society; and one is grateful also for our affluence. The difference between our lives and theirs is astounding.
The family in the book later sued the author for the negative impact this book had upon their lives. At least one character in the book had to leave her country.

ChristchurchLib Jan 15, 2013

"In early 2002, just after the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad lived with an Afghan family for several months. In this eye-opening portrait, she relates the inspiring deeds of the family patriarch (he is a bookseller who has been harassed and jailed under three different regimes for selling officially banned books), but primarily focuses on the family's domestic life and the oppression of women by male family members. The book's fascinating, detailed look at a private world made it a bestseller." January 2013 Biography and Memoir Newsletter http://www.nextreads.com/Display2.aspx?SID=5acc8fc1-4e91-4ebe-906d-f8fc5e82a8e0&N=591080

d
demet
Nov 30, 2011

Such a clear expression smoothly takes you to the end. Pleasure to read. Learned more about Afghanistan than any other media so far.

l
LNT
Aug 11, 2011

A wonderfully told glimpse into the lives of a few Afghans and their similarity to people everywhere.

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LNT
Aug 11, 2011

LNT thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

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