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The Bookseller Of Kabul

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For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned, and watched illiterate soldiers burn piles of his books in the street.

 

In spring 2002 award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad spent four months living with the bookseller and his family. As she steps back from the page and lets the Khans tell their stories, we learn of proposals and marriages, hope and fear, crime and punishment. The result is a unique portrait of a family and a country.

 

RRP: £6.99, <a href ="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/spring2005.asp?CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank">The Book Pl@ce</a> Price: £4.89

Just click on book jacket:

<a href="http://www.thebookplace.co.uk/bookplace/display.asp?ISB=1844080471&CID=BGO733"TARGET="_blank"><IMG SRC="http://213.253.134.29/jackets/m/184/1844080471.jpg"></A>

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This book was well written and a very enjoyable read. I learned so much about that culture from it. Having studied Islam for a considerable length of time I wasn't surprised by the workings of the Taliban but what did surprise me was how people held onto as many freedoms as possible in the face of that opposition. It would seem almost too impossible. If you want to enrich your knowledge of Afghanistan then give this one a read.

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Perhaps I didn't give this book a chance but I so disliked the attitude of the writer that I didn't finish it. Somehow I couldn't help feeling she was imposing her values on the people she wrote about under the guise of sympathy.

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'The Bookseller' provides just a glimpse of life for an Afghan family as seen by a Norwegian journalist, who it must be said only spoke to the family members who had some English. I must admit before reading this book I had very little knowledge of Afghan culture or the Muslim faith. My only experience of either being provided by news bulletins. I feel that I now have a better understanding.

 

Has anyone read Seierstad's new book about Iraq?

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I felt the author projected her own feelings on to the members of the family. It was fiction dressed as fact. I felt uncomfortable with what I saw as a betrayal of the family's trust in her. After all, they welcomed her into their home. I think they would all be horrified by what she wrote about them.

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I agree, I really think the family would be horrified at what she's written, and I felt quite shocked that she had repaid them for welcoming her into their home by writing such an unflattering account of her time there!

 

I also agree that she projected her own values onto the characters and came across as a judgmental rather than an impartial author. Admittedly I don't think she claims anywhere that this is an unbiased account so perhaps it's fair enough that she voices her own opinions. HOwever, being aware that the people in the story are real, it makes it sit a bit uncomfortably with me that the author's views are so strongly felt. It all somehow feels a bit inappropriate.

 

On the other hand I did learn a lot about the Taliban regime and the way of life in Afghanistan. I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to find that my vague ideas about the country were actually true and not an exaggeration!

 

On the whole, it was a good story, I did enjoy it but just the whole thing about it being about real people and not just a novel just made it all a bit uncomfortable for me.

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I found this book absolutely fascinating, and very readable, although I, too was uncomfortable with the way the family was presented to us. Many of her observations must have been surmise, as she clearly couldn't have been privy to their thoughts or coversations in some of the situations she describes.

 

The parts of the book I found particulary interesting and informative were those relating to Afghani political history, on which my ignorance was total, and the way the War Lords have, in their lust for power, manipulated the American Intelligence Services into settling old scores for them.

Her description of the 'leaky' border with Pakistan as a factor in the difficulties experienced in the hunt for Bin Laden was quite enlightening.

 

These aspects of the book have remained in my mind more clearly than the family relationships.

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Reading 'The Bookseller' made me what to find our more about Afghanistan, it's people and history.

 

'The Sewing Circles of Herat - My Afghan Years' by Christina Lamb has provided me with a far greater understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan. The author tells of the time spent in that country reporting the war against the occupying Soviets, living in great personal danger as she is taken to the front line of conflict. Following the attack on the World Trade Centre and defeat of the Taliban, Lamb returns to Afghanistan to find out what has happened to the people and places she knew.

 

This book takes you many steps further into Afghanistan than 'The Bookseller' If you want to continue your journey to that fascinating country, you can do no better than to read Christina Lamb's excellent offering.

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I've just finished this book, with rather mixed feelings, as I see a few others on this thread have also expressed.

 

I found it a very easy, fascinating read about a very alien land and culture. I didn't feel too much as if the author was being particularly judgemental....I felt as if she had at least gone some way towards understanding the culture and pressures that had shaped these people, and made them the way they were, rather than just condemning them.

 

It did seem strange though, that she had chosen to put herself out of the main section of the book, and had narrated it in the third person. That made it seem as if it was intended to be an "objective account", which is something it could never be. If she had told us the story in the first person, with herself as a character, it would have been a lot clearer that we were reading a personal response to what she found in Afganistan. She could have laid out for us her reaction to what she heard, and explored what provoked those reactions, rather than that being embedded and hidden in the narrative.

 

Any retelling of a story takes into account who is hearing it, and reshapes it accordingly - it felt as if the author completely ignored the idea that the family might tell things in one way to a Westerner, but might tell events a completely other way among themselves, or to a fellow Afghan. What motives or agenda did the family have as they talked to her? What image did they (maybe subconsciously) want to present of their lives together?

 

I'm glad I've read this, but I think other ways of presenting the story would have been more interesting and more satisfying.

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And I was sure I contributed to this but I couldn't find this thread in the google cache. I found some others, though. ;)

Anyway, I read this book with my RL book club. It hadn't been the first book about Afghanistan I had read and it certainly wasn't the best. The best was The Sewing Circle of Herat by Christina Lamb, well researched and with a fine understanding of the other culture.

This is sometihng I was missing in this book. Though the author tries to understand them, she doesn't really get into their minds, she lacks the feeling of the Eastern culture because she is a Westerner. It is easy to go to a place like this and say, I am democratic because we have certain democratic rules in our country. No, being democratic also has to be to understand that in other countries these rules do not work the same way.

I don't want to say that this allows people to neglect human rights but there is usually only a fine line between understanding the others and condemming them. I don't think the author got that.

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It would be really interesting to compare this book with something written from the inside - by someone who was actually a part of Afghanistan, not just visiting for a few months.

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Well, the Kite Runner was written by an Afghan and that didn't go down too well, either. Then there is Siba Shakib who has written Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep and Samira and Samir and a few others, these are the two I have read. The author came to Germany during the war and has settled there, I think, but she is from Afghanistan and has lived there a long, long time. I really liked her books (and the one from Christina Lamb but she's a journalist, though a very good one in my eyes).

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While we were in melt-down, I'm afraid I couldn't cope so I sought solace in another book club forum's arms. They were in the process of nominating for their book of the month, and this won. Then BGO came back and my priorities reverted back (nothing but fickle, me!) and The Bookseller of Kabul slid down the slopes of Mount TBR. But being a library book, I thought I ought to read it before I sent it back.

 

It was fiction dressed as fact.

The introduction tells us it is a fictionalised retelling of the events that the author witnessed and was told about, but I feel that your reading of it was much more apt! I agree that the use of the third person was very strange, on a few occasions I wondered whether the way the family reacted to events was because of Seierstad's presence.

 

As others have said, I think I have learned a lot about Afghanistan (not least where it is! - the maps on the news obviously didn't give me enough surrounding!) and the way that its residents have been treated over the years by their different rulers. I felt that the descriptions of the Taliban were much more objective than those in The Kiterunner and In the Country of Men.

 

An interesting read, but I rather wish I had taken Momo and Silvergirl's recommendation of the Christina Lamb rather than this.

 

And I was sure I contributed to this but I couldn't find this thread in the google cache.

When I first scanned this I felt sure you had contributed too, but I can't find anything else either!

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An interesting read, but I rather wish I had taken Momo and Silvergirl's recommendation of the Christina Lamb rather than this.
There's still a chance, you can always try it. And you learn a lot more about Afghanistan than where it is on the map (you can find that on any map from that region. ;))
When I first scanned this I felt sure you had contributed too, but I can't find anything else either!
I'm glad you said that since you seem so wonderful at finding soooo many other lost threads. In the meantime I am sure I wrote something about it.
It was fiction dressed as fact.
That was a very good quote. I hate it when they do that.

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In the meantime I am sure I wrote something about it.
Maybe you wrote something about it in the 'currently reading' thread? Can you remember when you read it?

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I read it before I joined BGO, so it couldn't have been currently reading. Though it could have been in another "Afghanistan" related thread since I read a few. But that should have turned up with a search. Anyway, I am sure, Flingo will find it. :D

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I read this last week and I thought that it was a fairly good read, although I did think it was strange that she had fictionalised these characters lives by showing their thoughts and situations that she wouldn't have been part of. I did learn more about Afgans lives as a result. I was expecting much more about the trouble of the bookseller and less about the family. Her sympathy was really obvious when she was talking about the young girl who did all the cooking and cleaning.

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I've just started reading this. I won't read this thread in full until I've finished as I don't want to spoil it for me! I'm finding the biography/novel style of it a bit strange though...

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I finished reading this book about a month ago and found it enjoyable enough, although it took me a while to get into it. Like other readers, I found it difficult to accept as fact. Had it been written from the author's point of view, with her thoughts and feelings, it would have felt more like the book she intended it to be. Instead, it came across as a piece of fiction.

 

Rather than inform the reader of Afghan life, I felt the book gave us only a small snapshot through the eyes of a family who, by and large, lived by traditional beliefs and values. I found the sections written about the young lady who wanted to escape the hold of her over-bearing family (sorry, I don't have the book to hand to familiarise myself with the characters names) to be a much more interesting aspect of the book, and would have liked to have seen this expanded on. Afghanistan has had so much press over the past 10 years or so, both good and bad, that it would have been nice to see how society as a whole is adapting to the changes that have taken place there, particularly the changing role of Afghan women.

 

Overall, the book tempted me with a subject matter that I had not looked at before, and I would be interested in reading other non-fiction books set in Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran.

 

Helen.

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I'm now reading another one by her, about Serbia. I think it's called something like 'With Their Backs to the Wall'. (it's upstairs and I'm downstairs and too tired to fetch it) Again, it is interesting and about an area and subject matter I have not known much about until now. It does also lose some of the fictional feeling of The Bookseller. But I'm not so gripped I can't put it down. It's enjoyable enough but it all feels a bit disjointed and she doesn't really paint her characters for me. OK, so they're not her characters, they're real people but I'm just not finding I have any emotion for any of them and I'm not sure why. Maybe because we keep jumping from one to another. Maybe I just don't understand the political arena well enough to be able to 'place' these people in context. I don't know. Maybe it needs a new thread?

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Overall, the book tempted me with a subject matter that I had not looked at before, and I would be interested in reading other non-fiction books set in Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran.

 

Helen.

 

Helen - do a search on Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana.

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Chuntzy, I've just read the synopsis on Amazon and it sounds interesting. I'm going to put it on my list of books I want to read when I've finished the pile gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom!!

 

Helen.

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