Book Review: The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

The Bookseller of Kabul was written by a journalist from Norway, Asne Seierstad. In the fall of 2001 Asne was in Afghanistan traveling along with "the commandos of the Northern Alliance." After the Taliban fell she traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan. In Kabul she found a book shop and met the owner Sultan Khan (anonymous name). She asked him permission to live with his family in order to write a book about life in Afghanistan. Sultan graciously agreed. Sultan's entire family was gracious and hospitable to Asne during her stay with them. Sultan is the eldest son of his siblings, the husband of 2 wives, the father of several children. In his home 13 people live. His youngest sister Leila age 19 is the primary servant/slave. Her task-master's are the men, especially Sultan. The women cannot perceive a different life, for centuries men have been the dominant ruler. During the Taliban strictness and brutality became apart of their lives. The books theme is supposed to be about Sultan the owner of a book shop in Kabul. It is about his perseverance during the various regimes and occupations including Russia and then later the Taliban. It is also about his family and their way of life, including the women. Although after reading the book my perspective was focused on the women, especially Leila.

The points of the book I was most focused on was how the women dressed, especially life under the burka. The cooking and duties the women had. Strict traditions of courtship, purchase of brides, and weddings. The attitudes of men to women, of course some males are more strict than others. Many people both male and female have an attitude of despair: living in a country that is illiterate, poor, high mortality rate, lack of electricity and water, what the future holds.

The Bookseller of Kabul has received much attention; both good and bad. The author was sued by the "bookseller" in Afghanistan who's family the author lived with for several months in order to write this book. This family was aware the author was a journalist and would be writing a book about them. I believe both parties were naive in how this book would affect them. The author began writing this book on the cusp of that most dark and horrifying of days, 9/11. As we know now, most positively, 9/11 changed everything. Perspective is everything. What my perspective is as a reader is not necessarily the perspective of the next reader, I think we need to be reminded of that. A writer's perspective, what they see, just as what an artist sees and then paints, will not be the same as the next artist and or writer. We all bring with us our prejudices, feelings, intuitiveness, perceptions, personalities, religion, politics. Some might state, "well a good journalist would be a professional observer and would write judiciously." There are no perfect people, just as their are no perfect journalists. I feel it is both logical and rational to believe we "all" come to the table (so to speak) with our own perspective. What is there to be gleaned from understanding this "perspective" business? Tact. A short word with much meaning. Tact means we know when to be mindful of others feelings no matter whether we agree or disagree. My dictionary gives a definition of, "intuitive perception of the right thing to do or say." Asne Seierstad set out to write a book about a family in Afghanistan, with the emphasis on the Bookseller and the women in the family. There was not anything written that I'd not already heard about in what the culture is like in Afghanistan, and in Muslim families. Men rule, women serve. There are degrees to this, some families and some Islamic countries are more strict than others. But, men still rule and women serve. It was piercing to my heart to read about the non-choice, the enslavement, the brutality, unforgiveness, and crude environment of living conditions. The book is sobering, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking.
Published first in Norway 2002, In Great Britain and United States 2003. Published by Back Bay Books or Little Brown and Company 2004.
Link @ Publisher: pages

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Paperback $10.96
Not available on Kindle

To read more information about this book, and events afterwards:

Blissful Reading!


  1. I agree with your assessment of the book. I found it very moving and very distressing. And my heart went out to Leila as well. I followed some of the stories on the resulting lawsuit, but Seierstad won on appeal and the supreme court declined to hear the case, so the appeal court ruling stands. I was relieved to hear that. It happened just a couple of weeks ago.

    Thanks for the review. Megan


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