Ariel's Reviews > The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad
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's review
Apr 11, 2007

did not like it
Recommended for: No one, it's bad

I was irritated early on by the way this book was written. I think it encompasses all my other grips about the book.

Basically the situation is like this: a woman journalist is in Kabul after 9/11. She meets this bookseller, lives with his family a few months with only 3 people in the family speaking English and then she writes a book about them.

First of all, having lived abroad and lived abroad with families, you can't know a family the way this author pretends to in that time. We don't even know how she interacted with the family because she writes herself out of the book entirely. She somehow thinks that she hasn't effected the family's life and that she can just describe them as if there is not some strange white woman sitting on the floor taking notes as they live their lives.

The book is written with such heavy condescension that I wanted to throw up. The moral I took away from the book is that life in Afghanistan sucks, especially if you are a woman, and it's all due to their stupid culture. Warning, this is not what I think, this is what I think the author was telling me to think.

The author says in the preface that she was inspired by this family. But from how she wrote the book it seems she was disgusted. I don't understand how she can write that way without even writing herself in, therefore allowing the follies of inter cultural miscommunication and misunderstanding play a part.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
April 11, 2007 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by Fiona (last edited Aug 25, 2016 10:59AM) (new)

Fiona Wow. I do remember being confused by the author's odd circumstances, but I definitely hadn't given it this much thought, and perhaps that's why I managed to enjoy the book. But I think you're right, the author's perspective--and lack of acknowledgment for the most part that she has a perspective--is a potentially serious problem.

message 2: by Jess Winn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:40PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jess Winn I agree with you in being frustrated by how the book was written... Mildly by her circumstances - although it's pretty ballsy of her to try to live that life.

What I found particularly disagreeable was how she presented the story. I would have liked it better had she written in the first person as she wrote her introduction. It felt false, as if she was trying to be too poetic, for the rest of the book.

Agustinus Wibowo I agree. I lost trust of the author's honesty since the first chapter, and I also happened to know the bookseller personally when I lived in Kabul.

Alec Chalmers I found myself in a similar questioning mindset throughout reading this novel, and regardless of how much is true, what does this really represent? It can't be held as an interpretation of Afghanistan's culture or collective values? How is she getting all this information?

Lazygorillas I completely agree, and I also saw that she had been sued by Sultan Khan in Norwegian courts, etc.

Tessa I agree with you all the way. I didn't like this book since I've first read it and I didn't know why and your review hit it on the spot. Sadly, I'm forced to read this agonizing book for school.

Roxy You probably meant she hasn't "affected" the family life, not "effected"! I guess you must have missed this one. You were too busy trashing a book. I'd love to know how many of these people who criticize books have ever written a book. Or an essay. Or an article. Or anything other than a shopping list...

Mahfuza I don't think it's necessary to know how to write a book to know how to review it. I mean you can know a dish tastes awful even without knowing how to cook. Making a simple mistake was out of carelessness rather than general ignorance.

As far as trashing the book, she was merely giving her opinion (with sufficient reason as far as I see). /shrugs

Eszter Faatima Sabiq I agree with every word of your review, thank you!

Tricia spot on!

Carol Waters I think this book is way more complicated than many of the reviews make it out to be. The first half captures a malaise that I don't think belongs purely in the realm of a constricted female life, though I'm sure it was part of many in the early 20th century and today. The malaise arises from never questioning or fully engaging the world around you...

Oh, that was you in another review. Seemed apropro here.......

Summer Brennan Thank you. This book was appalling.

Diana totally agree with you, ariel

Negina i totally agree with you, I felt like she was telling the stories in a negative way and showing everything even more negative. reading this book made me feel like throwing up. I dont think this book was a good representation of Afghanistan, as I am an Afghan myself. I think she enhanced all the negative aspects.

Malerie Schreiner I agree with this review wholeheartedly. It was also long-winded and difficult to get through.

message 16: by Seth (new) - added it

Seth boohoo you didn't like that a white person was appalled by the way women were treated and you of course know better. jeez louise go write your own books, people!!!

Mireille I agree with your review completely. As a former student of anthropology, the books comes off as a piece of propaganda and a work of pure fiction rather than a study on cultural differences. So much conjecture. So much inserting of personal beliefs. Binned the book in disgust. There are so many more introspective descriptions of the local culture to be read that don't involve white saviors.

Ammar Elmerhbi I wonder how she got under the skin of all family members, who mostly do not speak English, in 4 months. If it were realistic fiction I would understand. But at least, as a journalist she needs to describe the methodology she followed, ethnographic view, to get under their skin. At times, she us not reporting just criticizing "beaks under the burka?"

Greta Gradella I've just read this book, and the vision I had is that of a country torn apart by war and social oppression, yes. But that was clearly the intention of the author, therefore in no way I consider this an overview of the whole culture of the country. If something, I'm now more convinced to learn more and understand a culture so deeply different from my own, despite the distance between human rights considering women there. I think the author gave her personal view of it, it is the reader's concern not to generalize and search for more info about it, is it not?

Charlene Smith Heavens, maybe you need to get your self under control. I am an author and journalist who has lived in other countries, and I know that if you do things the American way and want to have me-me-me ever present, then you write yourself in. I prefer Seierstad’s way of writing, unobtrusive, thoughtful - and yes you can stay in a home and if you do it right become unobtrusive. She writes a deeply compassionate, intimate and loving account - I wonder if you even read it.

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