Wednesday, 13 February 2013

July 2011 - The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Although the majority of our book group didn't have too many great things to say about this book, none of us detested it. We all felt slightly let down by the fact The Bookseller of Kabul, wasn't so much about the bookseller  Sultan himself, but his rather large family. Many of us were hoping to hear about Kabul's black markets during the Taliban rule, instead we were given several short, journalistic style stories about the family members.

It was still an extremely informative book, perhaps more so if you are not already acquainted  with Islamic rule or have a cultural awareness of Afghanistan itself. Some members mentioned that it came across as very bias towards the Western world, proving just how lucky we are to have such materialistic lives. 

Instead of taking her usual journalistic approach, Seierstad chose to integrate herself within the family's life, but kept her role as an honorary member of the family hidden from the book. Some members felt that the novelistic approach worked well, whilst others thought that the short stories worked better as separate journalistic articles about the family, feeling the short stories made the book feel disjointed in places. 

It would have been a nice little extra to add a family tree, there were so many characters that kept creeping in and out that it was easy to get lost. Rereading the foreword and first few chapters helped to re-establish the roles of important family members.

As it is a true story the characters are as believable as they can be, although the group did have doubt over the accountability of the translators Mansur (eldest son) and Leila (youngest sister), mainly because their stories seemed far more interesting than the other characters  Did they change how the readers would perceive their relatives?

A lot of the group have already read books such as The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and Girls of Riyadh, and were therefore not surprised to hear about the way of life in Afghanistan, or indeed any Islamic country but is did reinforce the horror of the Taliban rule and how women were so repressed such as needing a white cloth on the wedding night to prove she has only ever belonged to her new husband! The thought of no music and dancing also made our members very sad. It left us all wondering what life is like for women, and men in Afghanistan in 2011. One of our members also compared the very realistic rule of the Taliban, to dystopian fiction such as those rules seen in 1984.

The ending tied up all stories, everyone thought Sultan was an evil man, especially how he treated the carpenter, members had wanted to hear a bit more about Sultan or for someone to confront him, but settled with some of the family breaking free from him.

The general consensus was that none of us would rush out to read anything by Seierstad, but would read her books if she took a different approach or wrote about a subject which appeals to us. She is perhaps a little lost between being a fiction author and journalist, nevertheless an interesting book.

It is reported that in real life, Sultan was upset with the way he was portrayed in the book. Nothing good was said about him, however he did come across as the head of the family, and respected amongst the majority of his community. Some of us felt that he may have been unhappy with how he was portrayed as he knew the book would be available to the Western world and he would be viewed as a hard monster.

Eight members attended tonight's meeting which gave us an average score of 6 out of 10. Our lowest score was 4 and our highest was 8.

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