The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad

Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad rolled into Kabul with the Northern Alliance as the Taliban fled. She had spent 6 weeks in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance.

There was expected to be a flowering of liberalism, once the Taliban fell, but this was not to be.

On her arrival in Kabul, Åsne Seierstad spent four months living with the family of Sultan Khan (not his real name), the bookseller of Kabul.

As a western women, she was able to speak to men and women.

Written in the style of a novel, the picture Asne Seierstad paints is a very depressing one of the life of women in Afghanistan.

Women are chattels to be sold and bartered, they have no say in their own lives, cannot leave the house without permission, are denied an education, not allowed to work.

One girl, seen with a boy, was beaten to within an inch of her life by her family. Another killed in cold blood because it was thought she had brought dishonour onto her family.

Women are rarely let out of the house, when they are let out they are dressed head to toe in a dirty smelly burkha. They never see the sun. As a consequence they suffer vitamin D deficiency, even though Kabul has one of the highest rates of sunshine.

Sultan Khan has seen his books burnt, has been in prison, and yet in his own home, with his own family, he treats the women in his family in the same brutal way.

The men fare little better, denied an education, cheap labour to run his shops.

A very depressing picture. But what is equally depressing is that those who dare criticise the treatment of women are in turn accused of cultural imperialism. This would be like two hundred years ago those who opposed slavery being attacked for disrupting the natural order.

The story did not end with the publication of The Bookseller of Kabul. Offended by his portrayal in The Bookseller of Kabul, Shah Muhammad Rais (real name of Sultan Khan) is suing Åsne Seierstad in Norway, claiming defamation of character.

Also worth reading:

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Taliban by Ahmed Rashid

One Hundred and One Days by Åsne Seierstad

Copies of The Bookseller of Kabul have been registered as BookCrossing books. [see BCID 5426297 and BCID 5560063]

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Books Worth Reading ~ Åsne Seierstad
(c) Keith Parkins 2007 -- October 2007 rev 0