Cover image for The bookseller of Kabul
The bookseller of Kabul
Seierstad, Åsne, 1970-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Bokhandleren i Kabul. English
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 287 pages ; 19 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Great Britain, Little, Brown and Co., 2003.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.4 13.0 83256.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT1877.5.K48 S45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
CT1877.5.K48 S45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
CT1877.5.K48 S45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
CT1877.5.K48 S45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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With The Bookseller of Kabul, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad has given readers a first-hand look at Afghani life as few outsiders have seen it. Invited to live with Sultan Khan, a bookseller in Kabul, and his family for months, this account of her experience allows the Khans to speak for themselves, giving us a genuinely gripping and moving portrait of a family, and of a country of great cultural riches and extreme contradictions. For more than 20 years, Sultan Khan has defied the authorities--whether Communist or Taliban--to supply books to the people of Kabul. He has been arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned, and has watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. Yet he had persisted in his passion for books, shedding light in one of the world's darkest places. This is the intimate portrait of a man of principle and of his family--two wives, five children, and many relatives sharing a small four-room house in this war ravaged city. But more than that, it is a rare look at contemporary life under Islam, where even after the Taliban's collapse, the women must submit to arranged marriages, polygamous husbands, and crippling limitations on their ability to travel, learn and communicate with others.

Author Notes

Asne Seierstad has received numerous awards for her journalism and has reported from such war-torn regions as Chechnya, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. She is fluent in five languages and lives in Norway

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Seierstad, a Swedish journalist, entered Kabul with Northern Alliance soldiers after they ousted the Taliban. She took the rare opportunity to live with and write a book about the extended family of Sultan Khan, bookseller and entrepreneur. The result, organized around events in the lives of individual members of Khan's large clan (two wives, assorted children, mother, brothers, sisters, nephew), provides appropriate information about recent Afghani history, a glimpse from the inside at an Islamic family, and an understanding of the harshness and difficulty of the daily grind in Afghanistan--both under the Taliban and after the U.S. antiterrorist campaign. Family members come across as very real, creating understanding at the least and sympathy at best. The author's admitted reconstruction of conversations and her strong feminist beliefs raise a few questions about accuracy of recall and of the depiction of male members of the clan. However, this fascinating, thought-provoking look at Afghanistan will add depth and a different point of view to nonfiction collections. --Ellen Loughran Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

After living for three months with the Kabul bookseller Sultan Khan in the spring of 2002, Norwegian journalist Seierstad penned this astounding portrait of a nation recovering from war, undergoing political flux and mired in misogyny and poverty. As a Westerner, she has the privilege of traveling between the worlds of men and women, and though the book is ostensibly a portrait of Khan, its real strength is the intimacy and brutal honesty with which it portrays the lives of Afghani living under fundamentalist Islam. Seierstad also expertly outlines Sultan's fight to preserve whatever he can of the literary life of the capital during its numerous decades of warfare (he stashed some 10,000 books in attics around town). Seierstad, though only 31, is a veteran war reporter and a skilled observer; as she hides behind her burqa, the men in the Sultan's family become so comfortable with her presence that she accompanies one of Sultan's sons on a religious pilgrimage and witnesses another buy sex from a beggar girl-then offer her to his brother. This is only one of many equally shocking stories Seierstad uncovers. In another, an adulteress is suffocated by her three brothers as ordered by their mother. Seierstad's visceral account is equally seductive and repulsive and resembles the work of Martha Gellhorn. An international bestseller, it will likely stand as one of the best books of reportage of Afghan life after the fall of the Taliban. (Oct. 29) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Sultan Khan, the title's bookseller, and his extended family are comparatively well educated and well off, yet their experiences exemplify the difficulties of effecting change in post-Taliban Kabul. Norwegian journalist Seirestad lived with the Khan family for several months in the spring of 2002, accompanying family members to work, school, shops, weddings, and more. Sultan's business trip to Pakistan, son Mansur's religious pilgrimage, and nephew Tajmir's work as a translator give her opportunities to comment on postwar life beyond Kabul. For more than 30 years, Khan risked arrest by selling books and other printed materials. Yet at home, in a cramped, war-battered apartment shared by mother, siblings, wives, children, and nephews, Sultan is a tyrant. With the exception of Sultan's mother, women in the Khan family have especially grim prospects: the birth of a daughter is considered a tragedy, and marriage, always arranged, confers status but often means trading one form of drudgery for another. Seirestad presents a vivid, intimate, yet frustrating picture of family life after the Taliban. Her book has been translated into 14 languages and is sure to be of interest to general readers here who are curious about life in Afghanistan. Recommended for public libraries.-Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-A female journalist from Norway moved in with the Khan family in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Disguised as she was behind the bulky, shapeless burka and escorted always by a man and even in Western dress, she was somehow anonymous and accepted readily into the bookseller's large extended family. Her account is of the tragedy, contradictions, rivalries, and daily frustrations of a middle-class Afghan family. She accompanied the women as they shopped and dressed for a wedding and was privy to the negotiations for the marriage. She tells of the death by suffocation of a young woman who met her lover in secret, the bored meanderings of a 12-year-old boy forced to work 12-hour days selling candy in a hotel lobby, and of going on a religious pilgrimage with a restless, frustrated teen. All this is recounted with journalistic objectivity in spite of her close ties to the Khans. Events that the author doesn't actually witness or participate in, she recounts from conversations with members of the family, primarily Sultan Khan's sister. There is much irony here-Sultan, who has risked his life to protect and disseminate books with diverse points of view, denies his sons the right to pursue an education and subjects his female relatives to drudgery and humiliation.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
The Proposalp. 3
Burning Booksp. 9
Crime and Punishmentp. 23
Suicide and Songp. 37
The Business Tripp. 41
Do You Want to Make Me Sad?p. 67
No Admission to Heavenp. 80
Billowing, Fluttering, Windingp. 84
A Third-Rate Weddingp. 94
The Matriarchp. 106
Temptationsp. 122
The Call from Alip. 131
The Smell of Dustp. 163
An Attemptp. 181
Can God Die?p. 194
The Dreary Roomp. 204
The Carpenterp. 214
My Mother Osamap. 245
A Broken Heartp. 267
Epiloguep. 285