Saturday, 12 November 2011

Seierstad, Åsne "The Bookseller of Kabul"

Seierstad, Åsne "The Bookseller of Kabul" - 2003

We have read a lot of books about Afghanistan in the book club, almost any that was suggested would be picked. Why we didn't choose this one, I really don' remember. I can only say, it certainly wasn't the best. That was "The Sewing Circles of Herat" by Christina Lamb, well researched and with a fine understanding of the other culture.

This is something I was missing in this book. Though the author tries to understand them, she doesn't really get into their minds, she lacks the feeling of the Eastern culture because she is a Westerner. It is easy to go to a place like this and say, I am democratic because we have certain democratic rules in our country. No, being democratic also has to be to understand that in other countries these rules do not work the same way.

I don't want to say that this allows people to neglect human rights but there is usually only a fine line between understanding the others and condemning them. I don't think the author got that.

From the back cover:
"In spring 2002, following the fall of the Taliban, Asne Seierstad spent four months living with a bookseller and his family in Kabul.

For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities - be they communist or Taliban - to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists, and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock - almost ten thousand books - in attics all over Kabul.

But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and his hatred of censorship, he also has strict views on family life and the role of women. As an outsider, Asne Seierstad found herself in a unique position, able to move freely between the private, restricted sphere of the women - including Khan's two wives - and the freer, more public lives of the men.

It is an experience that Seierstad finds both fascinating and frustrating. As she steps back from the page and allows the Khans to speak for themselves, we learn of proposals and marriages, hope and fear, crime and punishment. The result is a genuinely gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.

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