The Book Seller Of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

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.

The Plot

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

About the Author Asne Seierstad

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!

BUT 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.

Their 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

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