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The Bookseller of Kabul Paperback – October 26, 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
The Bookseller of Kabul reads more like good New Journalism. It's not great literature; it's great reportage. But it gives a voice to the women in the extended Family (meant in the broadest sense of the word), a voice that speaks for millions of women in the Middle East, a voice that must be heard. Especially heartbreaking is the fate of Leila, sister of Sultan Khan, educated, literate, bright - but unable to speak up for herself to escape a lifetime of servitude.
That said, the book does provide a penetrating look at a complex and complicated family forced to live under horrific conditions. Within the context of his society, Sultan Khan is an enlightened and liberal man. No fundamentalist, he reads widely and believes in freedom of thought and speech. But for all that Khan is a liberal man in a conservative society---he is still a product of a highly conservative society. As such, he is a polygamist and a man who forces his sons to bind to his will.
Khan is not a likeable man but his story, which the author tells in great detail, goes a long way in explaining who he is and why he acts as he does. As a bookseller, Khan was tortured first by the Soviets and then by the Taliban. Not surprisingly, he seeks, above all, to protect himself and all he owns (which for him, includes his family) from the ravages of war. This means, of course, that Khan forces the members of his family to do his bidding (his sons are taken from school and forced to work in his businesses etc.).
Khan is a despot. His actions toward his two wives, his children, his siblings and his nephews all reflect his desire to control his fate in a society which has allowed him no control over his own life. That doesn't excuse him, of course.Read more ›
At first Seierstad thought she had met a remarkably liberated Afghan man. Sultan was an ardent bibliophile who loved books and ideas. In a country where three-quarters of the population is illiterate, he had amassed a collection of 10,000 books, including rare manuscripts, that he had squirreled away around town. He survived the Soviet communists and the Islamic fundamentalists, and spent time in jail for anti-Islamic behavior. He despised the Taliban who burned his books. His family was wealthy by local standards, his opinions about women appeared liberal, he bought his wife western clothes in Iran, and derided the burka as a symbol of his beloved country's backwardness and oppression.
At home Seierstad discovered an altogether different Sultan, and for the most part her narrative reads like a cultural expose. She begins by telling the story of how Sultan took sixteen-year-old Sonya as his second wife, much to the grief of his first wife Sharifa. At home Sultan was an unapologetic tyrant toward everyone in his family. His two wives and daughters slaved away at cooking and cleaning. He consigned his twelve-year-old son to sell candy in a dark and dank stall that he called "the dreary room.Read more ›
The strength of the book lies is her observations of the individual family members through her modern feminist Western eyes; however, at times this is also its weakness since it becomes quite obvious that the more "unsympathetic" (male) members of the family do not get quite the nuanced descriptions as the more symphatetic (female) members. The bookseller himself, Sultan Khan, is the most obvious example. Seierstad is not quite able (perhaps understandably so) to portray with conviction his more admirable sides - it is as if his chauvinistic and self-important characteristics cannot coexist with a more complex, idealistic and interesting personality. Sure, she tries to explain that she was grateful to him for his hospitality, and she makes some half-hearted attempts to describe his heroic efforts in his resistance to the Taliban's censorships of his beloved books; however, she is not quite able to convey the bookseller's real and heartfelt motives for doing so. In addition, when referring to his passion for literature (espcially poetry), it seems almost as if it constitutes just a sidenote in Sultan's personality.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great intro to daily life in an afghan family. Each person has his or her role which is never changing. Read morePublished 19 days ago by DJ 815
Great book! Great insight into a crazy world the women live in Afghanistan.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I read this book many years ago and bought it as an e-book only recently because I wish to re-read it-I liked it that much. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Ellen
Great story full of authentic details - petered out a little at the end. Very worth reading.Published 2 months ago by morgan
Definitely a great read about the private lives of Afghan families. It reads like a novel but provides info like a documentary. Highly recommend.Published 3 months ago by D. Tobin
Asne Seierstad can't tell a compelling story from beginning to end. Instead, she slaps together a bunch of unrelated anecdotes gathered while reporting, producing a forgettable... Read morePublished 3 months ago by JohnDoeJohn
It is a good book for someone who wants to know more about how woman and religion are treated in Islam. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sieanna edwards
The author of this book stayed with a "middle-class" family in Kabul, Afghanistan, for four months, having met the father who was a bookseller. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Emmabbooks