Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Book Group, Round 6

I dragged my feet on this one a bit. I didn't really want to read it. All the shiny new books from Midwinter are stacked up in my living room (I'm buying more bookcases) calling to me. I didn't finish it until last night and I had to lead the discussion on it tonight. Luckily, I was posessed and the discussion questions were really easy to write this time.

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seirstad. Seierstad spent several months with the family of Sultan Khan just after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is a biography of a man who has fought through several regimes for 30 years to sell books and preserve the rapidly disapearing history of his country. It is both an idealistic goal and one of a true entrepreneur. He is a liberal man, in respect to a country when fundamentalism is not terribly unusual. His tale is told through his stories, but more importantly, through the other members of his family. It is through them and their lives that we see more than just the bookseller, we see the man; one who is far less attractive.

As one of the participants, and the author herself admited, you really wanted to smack Sultan around. The contrast between a man who values education, knowledge, and freedom to the man who demands control of every possible aspect of his household was unsettling. He bases so much upon the idea that those who live with him should be grateful to live in servitude and disrespect simply because he owns the roof over their head. He neglects to aknowledge, in his youngest sister's case, that if someone in his household would just take her to the ministry she would be more than happy to get a job. He condems a man to prison for years and a family to starve because the man stole a handful of the Sultan's thousands of postcards to feed his family through their sale. He thinks it a point of honor - that if he is light on this man, others will see him as weak. That man was never going to steal again, and yet Sultan still takes away the family's sole breadwinner. Sultan forces his 12-year-old son to work at a booth selling candy no one buys for 12 hours a day, when the son wishes to go to school - because Sultan doesn't trust those outside the family to be honest with his money. But hey, lets rejoice because in comparison to other men in the country he's downright liberal. He's bought his second wife western clothes and forbids her to wear the burka. He'd let his first wife go back to work, but his son doesn't think it a good idea, so sorry. Sultan is liberal when it works for him. It really ticked us off. As, you know, independant women of an entirely different culture.

Sultan (real name Shah Muhammad Rais) now has a lawsuit against Seierstad. If you google the book title you'll find the allegations of defamation he makes. Having read the book (in English, I can't speak for the original language), I don't see that his points hold water. He clearly sees differently. I read them aloud to the bookgroup. They think he's a bit mad. As in crazy. Not to mention just a jerk. But hey, Kabul can buy books (of dubious copywrite, by the way).

(I promise that I'll post a slew of teen books in the coming days. A slew. Really. Perhaps even a couple teen books that haven't been published yet...)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i found the Book Seller of Kabul heartbreaking, in particular Leila, so close, yet so far away from a real life, to see hers dreams permanently crushed
my husband is working in Kabul and i hear the stories of less priveledged families
yet on the shores of lake Malawi we met a liberated Afghan family who recently left Kabul with his beautiful wife and 4 exquisite daughters, from full burka's to shorts and t-shirts
he appeared much older than his wife which lends itself to him being much older when he acquired his young wife
he wanted a better life for his family and was employed by usaid and moved out of Afghanistan