Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: The Bookseller of Kabul

Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad spent three months living with Sultan Khan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Khan is an Afghan bookseller, and, according to Seierstad, is not a typical Afghani, as he is middle class and literate. Seierstad is able to immerse herself and her audience in the life of this Khan's rather complex family, painting a rather depressing and even terrifying picture of life in Afghanistan.

In The Bookseller of Kabul, Seierstad jumps from family member to family member, detailing her experiences with Afghani politics, religion, culture, education, and especially gender roles. I think I felt almost more hopeless reading this book than reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road (my review here), because the latter is fiction. Seierstad's account is full of real people living their lives terrified and frustrated. In one chapter, Sultan's 12-year-old son is described as working 12-hour days selling candy in a hotel lobby with only a few customers each day. He grows pale and unhealthy, working from dawn to dusk, with what seems to be no hope for any relief. The women in Sultan's life are constantly humiliated and overworked, and everyone lives in terror of doing something offensive.

Apparently Sultan was outraged by Seierstad's book and sued (or planned to sue) her for libel, insisting that she misrepresented his family. Who knows the real story, but Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Bookseller of Kabul together present a bleak picture of life of Afghani women.

I'm glad I read this book. I can't really say I enjoyed it, both because of the subject matter and the choppiness of the chapters, but I think it's an important read.

Other reviews of this book:
One More Chapter


Scrap girl said...

I have both these books in my TBR pile waiting to be read. I might read them together. Great review -we can't like every book we read.

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

This should make us all count our blessings. Interesting but not a book I would want to read. Thanks for telling us about it.

Shari Lyle-Soffe

B said...

Thanks for the review. This is another book I've considered reading many times, but just never took the plunge. I think I'll give it a go now. B.

Sherrie said...

I have been wanting to read this book, but haven't gotten around to it. I'll have to put it on my TBR list. Thanks for the review. Thanks for stopping by my place. Have a great evening!!


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I have this book on my shelf and it keeps staring at me! I swear I'm going to read this one in the next couple of months.

deepdowne said...

Hi Smallworld, neither could I enjoy the book

Belgie said...

The story of a bookseller, braving the Taliban and risking everything to keep some part of Afghan history alive, presents a startling look into the daily life of Afghanistan today. Presented through the words of Asne Seierstad, the reader experiences her intial reactions to the suppression of the people, especially women. The world surely looks different when one is wearing a burka, and Seierstad does a wonderful job of presenting those differences. Little knowlegde of current affairs is neccessary to appreciate this story.