Published by Little Brown and Company
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Through the story of a booksellers family this book gives a amazing insight to the plight of Afgan women within the repressive regime. A snapshot of Afgan family life as told by an incomer to the household.
This book is fascinating in many ways but the oft-times awkward language and the strange quality of the translation detract from the story at times. Inappropriate Americanisms are used, e.g. `dolled up’, describing one of the females getting ready to go out, and there are odd sentences which seem to be tagged on to the end of a paragraph for no good reason. However, the content of the book in describing the family functioning is vivid, informative and sympathetic towards the female members.
Luckily, the writer’s introduction includes a note about her angry feelings as an emancipated professional female and she says that she has never been as angry as when she was living with this family and felt almost moved to violence. Presumably the anger was for the treatment of the women as virtual belongings of the men. It is important to be aware of the writer’s feelings because it shows her honesty and unavoidable bias in her portrayals. Four months is not a long time in the history of a family but it is a long time to intrude on the people whom you are ultimately going to criticise. The Book captures some everyday life in a country ravaged by history of wars and held together by cultural habits. The story does not come to any final conclusions nor are there any neat tying of the endings; it is a snapshot in a continuing life story of a family surviving in very difficult circumstances.
Sultan has sued the writer and her publisher for libel in a Norwegian court. They could have predicted this but admirably the writer did not pull any punches. Sultan insists that his hospitality was abused, his personal life was wrongly portrayed and that his family was damaged, so he has asked for compensation, which fits perfectly with the character portrayal of him in the book. Perhaps he had not anticipated the viper he had invited into his nest and expected the writer to behave like all the rest of his female relatives with respect and subservience. She didn’t, she wrote and behaved just as she wanted to, all merit to her.
Not a literary masterpiece but certainly worth a read.