Friday, March 11, 2011

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Sierstad

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
ISBN: 0-316-15941-7
Pages: 288
Back of Book Description:

This mesmerizing portariat of a proud man who, through decades and successive repressive regimes, heroically braved persecution to bring books to the people of Kabul has elicited extraordinary praise throughout the world and become a phenomenal international bestseller. The Bookseller of Kabul is startling in its details--a revelation of the plight of Afghan women and a window into the surprising realities of daily life in Afghanistan.

My Rating: A

My Review:

When I picked this book up I think I expected it to be more about the books than about the family. I was quite wrong, but I'm glad I was.

The book starts out learning about Sultan a bookseller/publisher/entrepreneur/father/all around guy. As a reader you do learn about how he became what he is now, and what he did to save the precious books that represented the history of his country. Sultan seemed to have this faith that someday, if everyone was just educated on their past, the Afghan people could find peace. While I'd love to say that this was what he strived for, after a while I felt like it was more about money than the preservation of history. I started the book out liking Sultan quite a bit, but eventually I grew to feel as if he was what I as a 'stereotypical' citizen of the United States would think a 'stereotypical' male citizen of Afghanistan would be like. I ended up really resenting the man for thinking he was so progressive when by my standards he is light years behind.

Sultan isn't the only person the author writes about in this book. We meet his son, Mansur, who I also start out sort of connecting with, nonetheless, all but despising in the end. We also meet his mother Bibi Gul, his first wife Shakila and his second wife Sonya. My favorite character was Leila, though I also felt that her story was the saddest. The author writes not only of this family, but of others that branch out from this one. This shows how connected these familys still are. In my culture it is not expected or demanded that if I visit a city away from my home where my 15th cousin live I need to visit them.

I wish I could say that I found most shocking the line in which a policeman says to Monsur 'We try not to stone people anymore' and not in a sarcastic 'we try not to eat lead anymore' kind of way, but as if the culture was really having a hard time letting go of that lovely tradition. But it wasn't.

What I found hardest to cope with was the setting. If you picked up this family, as is, and moved it to America, Sutlan would be Middle Class, if not Upper Middle Class, yet they sleep on dirt floors. Imagine how the down and out have it? The terrain, and the effects that bombing and war have had on it played out in my head not like a story of Afghanistan, but like a science fiction novel. I don't think I could truly believe it unless I saw it with my own eyes, and I have to admit, I'm not sure I want to. I couldn't wrap my tiny brain around the idea that instead of a mattress these people simply longed for electricity most of the time instead of some. I was left wondering if I was taking for granted what I have or if they didn't know what they were missing out on.

All in all, this was a good, educational, and eye opening book.

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