Asne Seierstad, The Bookseller of Kabul: 5/20/2010

Bookseller of KabulMany in the group found ourselves thinking, “not another book about Afghanistan!” as we approached this month’s selection.  After reading it, we were glad to have read Seierstad’s journalistic book about a place that is so unfamiliar to us, yet so familiar to thousands of American troops.

We had some discussion about how non-judgmental the author really was (or wasn’t), how satisfying such episodic storytelling is (or isn’t), and how much license Seierstad must have taken in reporting the thoughts of participants in such incidents as Mansur’s pilgrimage.  Several readers were impressed with Seierstad’s vivid descriptions of of Kabul, down to the dust in the houses and the intimate smells within a burka.

We struggled to understand the tribal nature of life for the bookseller’s family, and found ourselves angered by the effects of such a strongly hierarchical and patriarchal society.  Leila’s thwarted efforts to establish a place for herself as a teacher, away from the constant demands of her family, were heartbreaking to read.  It was painful to read of Sultan’s mercilessness toward the impoverished man who stole some of his postcards.  The report of the girl killed by her brothers with her mother’s consent, for sitting with a man on a park bench, was enraging and unfathomable.

We talked about the difference between Islam and fundamentalist tribal culture, considering that patriarchal religious fundamentalism and extremism appears in connection with Christianity and other religions as well.

Some readers found the book a reminder of their doubts that our country’s involvement in Afghanistan can have a positive outcome for either nation.  One mother of an Iraq war veteran spoke up about her need to believe that the military effort is making some difference for the better.

Members suggested a few other titles:

James Michener, Caravans
David Baldacci, The Camel Club
Rory Stewart, The Places In Between
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel
Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

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