When I read Asne Seierstad’s The Book Seller of Kabul, I wasn’t aware of the controversy that surrounded the book. Although while reading, in the back of my mind I was thinking, the actual bookseller approved of this?
The portrayal of the patriarch wasn’t exactly flattering. In fact, it just solidifies all biases we (outsiders to Afghan and Islamic faith) already have about Afghanistan and its culture of misogyny.
Although all the names were changed, I would imagine, its not hard to find the biggest bookseller in Kabul. In fact, the real bookseller apparently sued the author, demanding a cut of the royalties. After reading about him, it doesn’t surprise me.
It’s a compelling read, a real page turner, if I may say so. I read it relatively quickly, mostly while in a public transport (jeepney) with all its reading challenges.
The book is a very intimate look at a relatively rich and relatively educated Afghan family but we also get a glimpse of what life is like for the ordinary Afghan family. The timeline includes the periods before the Taliban, during the Taliban, and after the American forces attacked the country because of 9-11.
The most heart-breaking character in the book would probably be Leila. She was portrayed as a kind of Cinderella, the only difference is there’s no prince charming and happy ending waiting for her. I identified with Leila, being the youngest in a brood of 6. I had my share of chores in the house but in no way was I slaving away my days waiting on my siblings and parents.
Sultan Khan is admirable only for his love of books and literature. What he did, protecting the books from the Taliban, was nothing short of heroic. But even with his level of education and vast knowledge, he failed to become what he thought he was. He could’ve been a champion of Afghan women. A tool for change and revolution but in the book, he was just another product of a twisted society.
His son Mansur, kind of reminds me of that jerk, Joffrey Baratheon, from Game of Thrones. Looks like he’ll turn out to be a worse version of his father with his lack of education but excess in cruelty.
I’m glad that at least Shakilah is better off with her new family. I think, by her description, she’s one dynamite of a lady that could bring positive influence on her students.
Are all the contents in the book accurate? I’m not sure. How much of the dialogue and description are true? If there are only 3 translators in the family (Sultan, Leila and Mansur), I’m sure the conversations have been censored before the author could write it down.
Nevertheless, The Bookseller of Kabul is one great read. It makes you think about your daily life as a woman in a country that is relatively free. Even if I live in a third world country, there are a lot worse places to be in as a woman. I don’t think I have the strength to survive there as these Afghan women have. Besides…
I don’t look good in a big blue invisibility cloak anyway.