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.
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