Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Bookseller of Kabul (Åsne Seierstad)

Image result for de boekhandelaar van kaboel


Title: The Bookseller of Kabul (Ned: De Boekhandelaar van Kaboel)
Author:  Åsne Seierstad  – Translator: Diederik Grit (Norwegian to Dutch)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography
First published: 2002
Edition: Paperback in Dutch, published by De Geus in 2007

I feel quite torn after reading this book. The book centres around the lives of members of one family in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

So much of this book touched my heart; a country’s history and a way of life that was destroyed, how normality changed so significantly for the subject family over the decades, but mainly how people accept their fate in their wartorn world. However, I do question the author’s approach.

Despite the fact that I really liked this book, I must wonder how much the author influenced the family’s life by living amongst them. She did not include her presence in the book and I would have preferred it if she had and had included the conversations she had with the three English speaking family members, taking a more journalistic approach. Maybe if she had written the book from her own point of view it would have felt like a stronger, more coherent narrative. Written this way, from various family members’ point of view, it crosses just a little too much into the realms of fiction.

As to the book itself, there is no overarching storyline. It almost appears like a collection of tales about the various events in the lives of members of the same family. Many of the events described in this book made me feel uncomfortable. The manner in which women are treated is alien to a woman like me born into a world where we can be whatever we want to be. My heart ached for the women of Kabul described in this book, who have little to no say in any aspect of their lives, restricted by rules that their family and society thrust upon them. Some passages in this book are hard to read, but I do feel it is important that these stories get told. However, the cruelty and restriction is not only the rule for women in this strict society. Many men suffer under the weight of expectation and protocol as well.

I do think it is important to read about other cultures to try and understand them the best I can and the author did succeed in making this a very human story.

I would definitely recommend this book to understand a part of the world that is rarely mentioned these days. Just bear in mind that this is not a completely unbiased or true point of view. I was going to rate it higher, but reflecting on the book, something about how the author chose to execute the story does not quite gel for me

Finally: There is a passage in the book in which one of the family members travels through an area destroyed by years of war and his companion is reading a  travel guide from the 1960s with rich descriptions of the vibrancy of the area. Now nothing is left but dust and destruction. One can only hope that Afghanistan will once be vibrant and colourful again, even if much of its history has been lost in war.

4 out of 7 stars

2 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: The Bookseller of Kabul (Åsne Seierstad)

  1. Glad to hear you weren’t quite sure about this book, either. I agree withyour point about it being a great story for learning about a part of the world we don’t read a lot about, but that it’s also quite a biased narrative.
    Have you read Once Upon a Time There was a Bookseller in Kabul? Shah Muhammad Rais, the bookseller from the book, disagreed With Seierstad’s depiction of his Family and his home, and so he wrote his own book as a comment on it. It’s an interesting read to get a different, more truthful, point of view!

    1. I haven’t heard of this one – that sounds really interesting! Although I liked Seierstad’s book, it does not quite sit well with me.

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