Monday, April 30, 2012

The bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad


This book was published to critical acclaim a decade ago and had been sitting on my bookshelf for years.  For some reason, I didn’t get into it the first time I started it.  In many ways, it was even more upsetting to read in the light of current events.  The author lived with an Afghan family for three months, shortly after 9/11 and the expulsion of the Taliban.  Some freedoms were beginning to creep back, particularly for women.  The bookseller, Sultan, has an extended family – an older wife, an unmarried sister, sons, and a new baby with his younger wife who he married recently. The author gives the reader a great deal of insight into the family dynamics of this group and, by extension, the culture of Afghanistan.  Ten years after this account, war still rages and any gains in women’s rights seem to have disappeared.  Just yesterday, there was a lengthy article in the NYT Magazine on women poets, who must conceal their work (and their faces) unless they are fortunate enough to live in a city like Kabul.  Here’s a sample:  "You won’t allow me to go to school./ I won’t become a doctor./ Remember this:/ One day you will be sick."  Depressing. 288 pp.

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