The Bookseller of Kabul - A Must Read

This book review is for anyone who has been out of circulation/off the planet for the past ten years or so and consequently has not heard of or read The Bookseller of Kabul. I am now on my third reading in ten years and am so enraptured by the book that I have taken time out from a beautiful early autumn afternoon in my garden to tell you about it.

It was written by a Norwegian lady, Asne Seierstad in 2002 and has now been translated into many languages. Ms. Seierstad has received numerous awards for her journalism. She has worked as a foreign correspondent in Russia, China, and reported on the ward in Kosovo for Norwegian television. In 2003 she reported on the war in Iraq from Baghdad.

In 2001 whilst in Kabul she met by chance a bookseller and became so interested in his story that she invited herself to live with his family for three months, only venturing out into the dangerous streets of Kabul wearing a burka to disguise her identity and protect herself from harm. The Bookseller of Kabul is fictionalised life-writing based on her experiences. She writes in her Forward to the narrative that whilst the book is in literary form it is based on real events experienced by herself or what was told to her by people who took part in those events. When she describes thoughts and feelings she is recounting what people told her they thought or felt.

This book gives a unique insight into what life is like for a relatively affluent and well-educated man supporting a family in a patriarchal society in war-torn Afghanistan. Ms.Seierstad writes sympathetically but is open about her anger and frustration at the suppression of women in a traditional Muslim society. I can't recommend this book highly enough as a means of furthering understanding and sympathy for people living in very difficult circumstances. The book has been described by various critics as 'compelling, a triumph, stunning, and remarkable.'

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