Title: The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Genre: non-fiction - Islamic Culture
Synopsis: This mesmerizing portrait of a proud man who, through three decades and successive repressive regimes, heroically braved persecution to bring books to the people of Kabul has elicited extraordinary praise throughout the world and become a phenomenal international bestseller. The Bookseller of Kabul is startling in its intimacy and its details - a revelation of the plight of Afghan women and a window into the surprising realities of daily life in today's Afghanistan.
Review: This book has generated a lot of talk from critics and from the people involved. Apparently even though the author attempted to keep the bookseller and his family anonymous he was too well known so even with the use of alias's he was identified. Now he is seeking asylum in Sweden or Norway with his family. He is also suing the author for defamation of character, family and country in a Norway.
This book is written as a story which makes it easier to read. It was very interesting and gave an interesting look into Afghani life and the differences between the lives of women and men. At first I didn't understand why the bookseller was suing the author but as the book progressed I could see why he might take offense. Its not that he did anything particularly bad, but some of his actions to a western mind were harsh and offensive.
Seierstad also gives a lot of history about how Afghanistan used to be before the Taliban and a glimpse into the current political climate. Its sad that such a beautiful country and culture have been destroyed by constant war. At one point one of the sons was making a pilgrimage and was passing through all different cities while one of his friends read from a tour book. The city now looks nothing like the book described. It is now a desolate location with bombed out buildings, no trees, and very few people whereas before it was known as a place of great art. Beautiful pottery was sold by the road which was lined with cherry trees and people.
The bookseller intrigued the author when she met him because of his love of books, and his passion for keeping the culture of his people alive even during the Taliban rule. He frequently kept banned books in his shop. He was imprisoned many times and his books taken out and burned in the streets. I think somewhere within her time with him her respect for him dwindled and the book became less about him and more about his family. His sons, one of who is completely dislikable and others that you feel sorry for because they really have no say about their lives. The bookseller is the ultimate ruler of his family and what he says is law. The women in the family which include his mother, his sisters, and his daughters are treated more as possessions than people. Seierstad does show other families where womens lives aren't quite as rigid as the booksellers and have more freedom but she tends to focus more on the family. It is fascinating to read the parts from the women's point of view, most of whom have accepted that they have no say, while others still struggle against this.
All in all I would say this is a really interesting book that gives an interesting glimpse inside one Afghani families world.