Tag-Archive for ◊ cruel ◊

• 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.

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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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
• Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Anita Shreve was born in Dedham Massachusetts in 1946 from an airline pilot father and a housewife mother. She graduated from Tufts University. She worked as high school teacher at Amherst College, Massachusetts. She started writing her novels while working. She was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her book “Past The Island, Drifting”.

She then stopped writing fiction in the late 1970s and worked as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya for three years. She wrote for Quest magazine, US magazine, New York Times and New York magazine. She decided to give up journalism and dedicate herself full-time to writing fiction. Her books were translated into many languages and she won The Pen L.L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. She currently lives between Longmeadow Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Anita Shreve wrote several novels :
Eden Close in 1989.
Strange Fits of Passion in 1991.
Where or When in 1993.
Resistance in 1995.
The Weight of Water in 1997.
The Pilot’s Wife in 1998.
Fortune’s Rocks in 2000.
Sea Glass in 2002.

She wrote non-fiction books :
Dr. Balter’s Child Sense in 1985.
Dr. Balter’s Baby Sense in 1985.
Working Woman in 1986.
Remaking Motherhood in 1987.
Who’s in Control in 1988.
Women Together, Women Alone in 1989.

Kathryn is the pilot’s wife and she is the main character of the novel. The story is about her tragedy, her distress, her love, her deceit and her rage, and how she has to deal with the initial shock when she is woken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door to be told by Robert Hart, the pilot’s union employee, that her husband died in a plane crash with 103 passengers, 10 miles off the coast of Ireland and that there were no survivors.

The novel is divided in two parts, the first half describes in simple, clear prose Kathryn’s struggle to deal with her shock, loss and grievance, while trying to pull herself together for the sake and protection of her 16-year old daughter Mattie, with the help of the kind Robert Hart.

This part holds some hints to prepare readers for what follows in the second half which is full of unexpected painful revelations, challenging Kathryn’s prowess to deal with the truth of her marriage and what has become of it. What appeared at the beginning to be a sad and quiet story turns out to be a gripping one, a thriller combined with the difficult defiance between loss, love and betrayal but also about some hope for the future.

Anita Shreve manages to make a good, captivating read out of a banal, common theme of betrayal and adultery.

Kathryn finds it very hard to bring together her happy memory of a stable, peaceful and uneventful married life in a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Ely, New Hampshire, a bright teenage daughter, with a husband she cared for dearly, and thought that she knew, with the harsh deceitful reality of who Jack really was. A mixed feeling of grief and danger which triggers her determination to seek the truth at any cost after hearing all the unbelievable rumours, and after discovering various pieces of paper in Jack’s pocket and in his bath-robe with initials and phone numbers which she knew nothing about. She was ready to go through it all even if its outcome turns out to be devastating for her. In any case Kathryn knew that nothing will ever be the same again.

Anita Shreve portrays Kathryn’s confusion and disbelief in switching the chapters constantly from the present with all it’s unpleasantness and cruel devastation, to flashes of the serene, tranquil and more reassuring past. She has masterfully succeeded in conveying Kathryn’s feelings by contrasting the two lives through juxtaposition.

Anita Shreve’s books are often categorized under “women’s novels” due to her acquired art of describing women’s distressful feelings and sensibilities. The Pilot’s Wife appears to be a puzzle that Kathryn tries throughout the novel to unravel piece by piece. She thought she knew her husband but found out that she was living with a complete stranger she knew nothing about.

The readers are aware of that through what Mattie was telling her mother about the rumour that the pilot committed suicide : “Mattie you knew your father.” “Maybe”. “What does that mean ?” “Maybe I didn’t know him” Mattie said. “Maybe he was unhappy”. “If your father was unhappy, I’d have known.” “But how do you ever know that you know a person ?” she asked. What Kathryn didn’t know is that no matter how well you know a loved one intimately, there is always a little secret garden that each one keeps to oneself.

After meeting Muire Boland, Jack’s second wife and seeing their two children, Kathryn was overwhelmed with the sad and crude reality of her suspicion, which led her to drive all the way to the Irish coast, where the plane crashed. She decided to unburden herself from the weight she was carrying by throwing her wedding ring into the sea to join Jack at the bottom of the ocean. She wanted a new start by getting rid of the past and like that the healing operation can take place.

The Pilot’s Wife is an easy, readable book, the style is clear and simple. The plot was progressing well but then the author decided to end the story abruptly leaving a couple of loose threads untied.
The involvement of Jack with the IRA which led to the plane explosion was not explained sufficiently, and the relationship between Kathryn and Robert Hart was left undeveloped.

Anita Shreve was asked in an interview where did she get the idea for The Pilot’s Wife? She answered : “A novel is a collision of ideas. Three or four threads may be floating around in the writer’s consciousness, and at a single moment in time, these ideas collide and produce a novel… I overheard a conversation between a pilot and a woman at a party. Something he said lodged in my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. The thing he said was : When there’s a crash, the union always gets there first. He meant that when there was a crash of a commercial airliner, a member of the pilot’s union made it a point to get to the pilot’s wife house first. There are a lot of reasons for this, the most important of which is to keep her from talking to the press. And there was a collision of ideas.” which produced The Pilot’s Wife.