The Bookseller of Kabul

BOOK REVIEW by our colleague Mary Kiernan.
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Åsne Seierstad is a Norwegian freelance journalist and writer, best known for her accounts of everyday life in war zones. She reported from Russia, China, Kosova, Baghdad and most notably Kabul.
This story is set in Kabul, Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban. The author spent four months living with Sultan Khan and his family. Sultan Khan owned and ran a bookshop with shelves stacked with books in many languages, poetry, history, novels, Afghan legends. His books were regularly brought out on the street and burned by the ‘Ministry of Culture’ who regarded all books, except religious ones, to be sinful. But Sultan Khan is a survivor and rebuilds his business again and again
What’s wonderful about this story is that you are transported right into the heart of family life in this war-torn country. You get a feel for the landscape, colours, sounds. You are introduced to the customs, food, proposals, marriages, crime, punishment, the real Afghanistan, although the author is at pains to point out it is only one family in Kabul, she does not suggest it is everyone’s story. However, the effect is that you feel you are there sharing the journey.
Seirdstad does not shy away from the difficult subject of gender discrimination. The women of Afghanistan have little or no say in decisions made on their behalf. They are hidden away behind the burka and are never asked for an opinion.
I’d highly recommend The Bookseller of Kabul for its beautiful writing, its honesty and the story it tells of life, love and everything in between.