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The Bookseller of Kabul

By Asne Seierstad

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Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Published In: United States, 26 October 2004
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.

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About the Author

Asne Seierstad is an award-winning journalist and writer renowned for her work as a war correspondent. Her books include One Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya, and, most recently, One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway. She lives in Oslo, Norway."

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Adult/High School-A female journalist from Norway moved in with the Khan family in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Disguised as she was behind the bulky, shapeless burka and escorted always by a man and even in Western dress, she was somehow anonymous and accepted readily into the bookseller's large extended family. Her account is of the tragedy, contradictions, rivalries, and daily frustrations of a middle-class Afghan family. She accompanied the women as they shopped and dressed for a wedding and was privy to the negotiations for the marriage. She tells of the death by suffocation of a young woman who met her lover in secret, the bored meanderings of a 12-year-old boy forced to work 12-hour days selling candy in a hotel lobby, and of going on a religious pilgrimage with a restless, frustrated teen. All this is recounted with journalistic objectivity in spite of her close ties to the Khans. Events that the author doesn't actually witness or participate in, she recounts from conversations with members of the family, primarily Sultan Khan's sister. There is much irony here-Sultan, who has risked his life to protect and disseminate books with diverse points of view, denies his sons the right to pursue an education and subjects his female relatives to drudgery and humiliation.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

After living for three months with the Kabul bookseller Sultan Khan in the spring of 2002, Norwegian journalist Seierstad penned this astounding portrait of a nation recovering from war, undergoing political flux and mired in misogyny and poverty. As a Westerner, she has the privilege of traveling between the worlds of men and women, and though the book is ostensibly a portrait of Khan, its real strength is the intimacy and brutal honesty with which it portrays the lives of Afghani living under fundamentalist Islam. Seierstad also expertly outlines Sultan's fight to preserve whatever he can of the literary life of the capital during its numerous decades of warfare (he stashed some 10,000 books in attics around town). Seierstad, though only 31, is a veteran war reporter and a skilled observer; as she hides behind her burqa, the men in the Sultan's family become so comfortable with her presence that she accompanies one of Sultan's sons on a religious pilgrimage and witnesses another buy sex from a beggar girl-then offer her to his brother. This is only one of many equally shocking stories Seierstad uncovers. In another, an adulteress is suffocated by her three brothers as ordered by their mother. Seierstad's visceral account is equally seductive and repulsive and resembles the work of Martha Gellhorn. An international bestseller, it will likely stand as one of the best books of reportage of Afghan life after the fall of the Taliban. (Oct. 29) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Sultan Khan, the title's bookseller, and his extended family are comparatively well educated and well off, yet their experiences exemplify the difficulties of effecting change in post-Taliban Kabul. Norwegian journalist Seirestad lived with the Khan family for several months in the spring of 2002, accompanying family members to work, school, shops, weddings, and more. Sultan's business trip to Pakistan, son Mansur's religious pilgrimage, and nephew Tajmir's work as a translator give her opportunities to comment on postwar life beyond Kabul. For more than 30 years, Khan risked arrest by selling books and other printed materials. Yet at home, in a cramped, war-battered apartment shared by mother, siblings, wives, children, and nephews, Sultan is a tyrant. With the exception of Sultan's mother, women in the Khan family have especially grim prospects: the birth of a daughter is considered a tragedy, and marriage, always arranged, confers status but often means trading one form of drudgery for another. Seirestad presents a vivid, intimate, yet frustrating picture of family life after the Taliban. Her book has been translated into 14 languages and is sure to be of interest to general readers here who are curious about life in Afghanistan. Recommended for public libraries.-Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"The most intimate description of an Afghan household ever produced by a Western journalist... Seierstad is a sharp and often lyrical observer." -- New York Times Book Review "An admirable, revealing portrait of daily life in a country that Washington claims to have liberated but does not begin to understand. Seierstad writes of individuals, but her message is larger." -- Washington Post Book World "A compelling portrait of a country at a crossroads - desperate for tranquillity, factionalized beyond imagination, struggling both to uphold tradition and to modernize, hoping to prove to itself and the rest of the world that it knows peace and stability." -- Boston Globe "An unusually intimate glimpse of a traditional Afghan family... Seierstad imbues a grim story with language of desolate beauty." -- Entertainment Weekly "A compelling book... Seierstad infiltrated a world most readers will never see." -- Denver Post

EAN: 9780316159418
ISBN: 0316159417
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Dimensions: 20.88 x 14.02 x 2.16 centimetres (0.29 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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1 review(s)
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Emily on
 
The author of this book lived with the bookseller of Kabul and his family, and writes about their day to day life and struggles. Afghanistan, post "liberation", is still an undesirable place for women and a place where warlords still have the final say on what goes on. It's a fascinating account of life in Kabul, one that you're unlikely to get reading the daily papers or even some of the other books written but foreign correspondents about Afghanistan. This book is not concerned with the politics so much, but the minutia of life. Women in Afghanistan still have a long way to go before they are truly liberated.

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