Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Books: Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

An incredible look into the life of an Afghani family, and what it's been like in Afghanistan after the US invasion. The plight of women is and has been heartbreaking: they could not be seen by men; they cannot be alone in public; they must sit on the back of the bus; they cannot feel or love for themselves. Such extreme outdated religious mores are thinly veiled shackles of slavery. If there is something positive that can come out of this war (not to be confused with the Iraq invasion) it is that women have a tiny bit more freedom there.

OK, that's what I thought before I looked around to see if I could find out what happened after the book. Would the young sister be able to teach school? Instead I found some post-book fallout. The bookseller was not happy with the depiction of his family, and that they were thinly disguised. Another newspaper article. Author's rebuttal in this interview. One of his wives applied for asylum. Something that did make me uncomfortable about the book was its narrative style. The author wrote it as if she wasn't there. You couldn't tell which parts she witnessed, and which parts were hearsay. I didn't trust that.

I read this for my book group last month. As I found this out before the group, I shared the links with other group members on email. I wondered how our group discussion might have been different if we hadn't had that information. That was almost a month ago now...this has been languishing in my drafts folder for that long. I've read a lot of books as I've ridden the bus here and there, but haven't had the time to write them down.

quotes that intrigued me:

In Afghanistan a woman's longing for love is taboo. It is forbidden by the tribes' notion of honor and by the mullahs. Young people have no right to meet, to love, or to choose. Love has little to do with romance; on the contrary, love can be interpreted as committing a serious crime, punishable by death.

Sultan is of the opinion that he own's the world's largest book collection on Afghanistan, a collection of about 8 or 9,000 volumes. [Powell's in Portland has 700,000 about 1/10 of that on Afghanistan]

As the use of the burka had started among the upper classes, so they were the first to throw it off. The garment was now a status symbol among the poor, and many maids and servant girls took over the silk burkas of their employers.

Afghan soldiers said, "We know everything about our weapons, but we know nothing about how to use a telephone."

"They protest with suicide and song," writes the poet Sayd Bohodine Majrouh in a book of poems by Pashtoon women.


Oh, my God, yet again you have bestowed on me a dark night
And yet again I tremble from head to foot.
I have to step into the bed I hate.

Give me your hand, my loved one, and we will hide in the meadow
To love or fall down beneath the knife stabs.

Tomorrow morning I will be killed because of you.
Do not say that you did not love me.

Lay thy mouth over mine,
But let my tongue be free so it can talk of love.

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