The Bookseller of Kabul

I’ve been on a non-fiction reading spree lately, and that spree continues with The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad.

I know I’m a bit late to this (it was published in 2002) but Afghanistan remains topical in the news as America prepares to withdraw its troops from the country.

Asne Seierstad is an award-winning journalist from Norway who spent a few months in Afghanistan in 2001 reporting for Scandinavian newspapers. The following year she lived with an Afghan family for four months, which resulted in this book about their everyday lives in the tumultuous country under Taliban rule.

In many respects, this reportage reads like a real-life Handmaid’s Tale: the oppression of women which made it illegal for them to go to school or to have a job, marriages were arranged against their will, they could not leave the house without wearing a burka and were not allowed to go anywhere alone. Punishments were severe.

This book is an intimate portrait of a bookseller and his family: his wives, his children, their hopes and dreams, their daily rituals and habits, and the family dramas of navigating marriages, visiting relatives and simply living with each other under an oppressive religious regime.

In the book, Seierstad renamed her subjects in an attempt to provide some anonymity to the family. The head of the family, the titular bookseller, responded angrily to his portrayal, however, and attempted to sue Seierstad for damages.

Visit for an update on what the Bookseller is doing now. Currently, the family is split between Norway, Canada and Kabul and the Bookseller himself is planning to set up an Amazon-style online bookshop empire.

I tend to shy away from “international bestsellers” but this one really is as good as they say it is.

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