The Book seller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad is an educational page turner.
Afghanistan, Kabul & Taliban are names used on a daily basis in our newspapers & on T.V.
But this excellent book gives us a wonderful insight into everyday life there, particularly after both the Communists & the Taliban left the country.
In a nutshell, it's a non-fiction but factual book about Kabul & Afghanistan.
It covers some of Afghanistan's history particularly under the Communists & the Taliban but, it mainly tells us about everyday life there through one family - Sultan Khan who is a book seller, living through the various regimes and hardships in his country
Asne Seierstad is a female freelance journalist from Norway.
She is most famous for her reports about living in a war zone (Kabul and Baghdad)
Her novel, The Bookseller of Kabul, is steeped in controversy with the book seller (real name Shah Muhammad Rais) taking Asne Seierstad to court for defamation of character.
He claims that parts of the
book are untrue and members of his family have had to move to Pakistan
and Canada due to the humiliation.
It seems however that Asne Seierstad was able to win her case
It covers marriage, education, religion, food, the role of women & the role of men:
He is a despot! The whole family lives under his strict rule. He decides on every issue ranging from marriage, his sons' futures & the number of wives he takes.
For example, his sons work in his bookshops even though they would prefer to be better educated.
Ironically, he sees himself as liberal & pro women. He doesn't see himself as a despot.
The story about the carpenter is particularly upsetting: he shows no
compassion for the poor man & his big, starving family.
Yet he is naive in generously allowing the writer, a journalist & a woman, to live with his family for several months. She writes of her stay there, telling it like it is with thoroughness & conviction; she knows she has a good story to tell. To me her journalistic skills are prevalent throughout the book.
It must have been a shock to him to
read the result of her stay. BUT he has no experience of women taking
such action; he only knows biddable, obedient females. His life has not
included strong educated women, especially those who are journalists.
AND as for being a despot, Sultan is only following the traditional role
of those heads of family before him over centuries.
The role of women in the book shocked me more than I had expected BUT the role of men shocked me even more. Those men under Sultan's rule have to do as they are told. They have no choice! They can't even choose a wife without his permisson! Such is the society in which they live!
it leaves them unhappy, resentful & unfulfilled. YET they are so
entrenched in tradition that I feel sure they would be exactly the
same in Sultan's shoes. It will take a lot of education & many years
to change any of these traditions shown in the book.
Yes I was more shocked than I expected to be about the role of women in the book. It was so depressing reading about their lives & the restrictions they have to bear. They are skivies, chattles & even outside the home, they are compelled to wear the burka.
husbands are chosen for them, often being sold off to much older men,
old enough to be their fathers or even grandfathers. Then they are
afraid to produce daughters instead of sons. We even learn that some
women are killed in what are called honour killings. We see little love
for these women. They are traded & suffer seeing their husbands
taking on new wives when they get older or don't produce enough sons.
The poems near the start of the book sum up their sadness, despair &
lack of hope.
"It's as though time has stood still in Kabul's bazaar. The goods are the same as when Darius of Persia roamed here around 500B.C."
This is true of everything, not just in the bazaar. The rules are the same as forever & they are man made. I don't know a great deal about the Koran but I'm told that nowhere does it say that women should be so subservient to men.
I was so shocked when I read the story about the leader who had men tied to the tanks' wheels to die an horrific death as the tanks drove away. To us it is so barbaric! Horrendous! The Christian religion is very much about compassion, forgiveness & kindness but there doesn't seem to be much of this in this book.
Amazingly, life seems to be better than under the Communists & the Taliban!!
Great irony in that Sultan loves his books, his book shops
& his country's literary history yet he refuses to allow his sons
to go to college because he wants them to look after his shops. He is so
lacking in self knowledge. The women have less chance of going to
college than the men. It is so depressing. We are so lucky!
It was very interesting to read about his son's visit to the Blue Mosque. I felt the writer gave an interesting & believeable account of their religion. Not everyone prayed 5 times a day, there is some evidence of drinking alcohol & we read of Moslem's who, when away fighting, will use poor young girls for sex & so on. There is such a contrast between Islam here & in the west.
What shocked you the most about this book?
Does the controversy surrounding the authenticity of the book, make you think differently?
Do you think the western views of the author Asne Seierstad are prevalent in her writing?
Is Asne Seierstad judging or observing this family?
Do you think the women and men in this book are happy?
Our Book Club gave The Book Seller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad a 7/10.
It's an educational read and makes you feel very lucky to have been born in a western culture.
Being written in the first person singular makes the content of the book more believable.
Hope? Well there isn't much but there is a little. It's when reading through the sixteen points of the Taliban rules that we see most hope.
When they are driven out of Kabul taking their cruel demands with them, there is some relaxing of the rules.
Top of Book Seller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Fab Book Club Recommendations home page
This Month's Book - Join Us!
Love reading about outrageous injustice and unfairness. Try this one.
Learn about new countries cultures. Try
Looking for books with a bit more depth for your Book Club? Try
Establish some fun ground rules for your Book Club:
Make things interesting - Have an annual Award Ceremony
Visit a Prison with a difference in South America. You will be amazed what goes on behind closed doors:
Read a Classic and find out what makes Flaubert's story and writing so legendary:
Looking for something quirky and funny?
Try The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared