Author:
• Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Born in Norway in 1970, Asne Seierstad studied Russian, Spanish and History of philosophy at Oslo University. She has worked as war correspondent in war-torn regions, like Chechnya in Russia between 1993 and 1996. Then from 1998 to 2000 she reported on the war in Kosovo for the Norwegian television.

In the Autumn 2001 she spent three months in Afghanistan, and in 2003 she reported on the war in Iraq. She received many awards for her good journalism. Asne Seierstad is fluent in five languages.

The Bookseller of Kabul was first published in 2002. It sold 220.000 copies in Norway alone, which made it the Norwegian non-fiction best-seller book of all time in the history of the country.

In the UK it was the best selling non English language book of 2004. The Bookseller of Kabul has been translated into fourteen languages.

After spending three months among soldiers, reporting, travelling by horse and by foot in Afghanistan, Asne came across Sultan Khan (Shah Mohammed Rais) in his book shop in Kabul at the Intercontinental hotel. She was very pleased to meet this well educated, English-speaking native who managed to keep his trade going through all the hard time the country has endured.

He was arrested, sent to jail, and his shop was destroyed. First the communists burned his books, then the mujahideen looted and pillaged, and finally the Taliban burnt them all over again.

Sultan Khan allowed Asne Seierstad, a western journalist to live with his family and write a book about them and about the newly liberated Kabul. Such generous hospitality allowed Asne Seierstad to stay with the family for three months. She could speak English with Sultan Khan, his eldest son Mansur and his nineteen year old sister Leila, who have been educated in Pakistan. They provided her with all the information she needed to learn about the family. As a western journalist lady, Seierstad could mix with men as well as women.

The Bookseller of Kabul is written more like a journalistic reportage than literature. The main character is Sultan Khan who is described as a selfish, ruthless,cruel despot who denies his children educational opportunities, and yet knows the value of books and education. He is a well educated engineer, he is liberal in his thinking, he reads a great deal, he believes in the freedom of speech, and but he is conservative in every way.

After his father’s death he becomes the head of the family and no one can oppose his will. He is not liked by his family for being a despot.

Seierstad says about him: “He was very democratic in inviting me into his home, very generous and helpful. He said I was welcome to move in and to write whatever I wanted. He is very concerned about Afghanistan being known in the world. He’s got great respect for journalists, those who come and write about his country. But he is a man with many sides. He is educated, trained as an engineer,and he has read all the history of the region and all the poetry. He has not read the modern books or foreign books and doesn’t have the broad kind of knowledge that an intellectual would. He is really a village boy…. when it comes to running his family, he has only one model and that’s his father.”

After The Bookseller of Kabul was published, Shah Mohamed Rais went to Oslo to have his “honor restored” by denouncing the book and seeking legal redress and compensation, as told in the Oslo’s Aftenposten newspaper.

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The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad was discussed by the members of the Book Club of the United Nations Womens’ Guild on Friday, 12th January 2007.

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One Response

  1. The Bookseller of Kabul’ was a very informative book for me to read. I knew much more about Afghani life during the Taliban than I knew of life after the fall of the regime. ‘Bookseller’ really delved into actual situations that Afghani people faced. I was especially astonished of the treatment of women even after the Taliban. This book, though not 100% fact, illustrated the dire straits of the Afghani women, and even more surprisingly, the hard life that even the men must live. We have heard so much about the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan that the horrible standards of living faced by everyone is largely ignored.

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