Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The Bookseller of Kabul
I started reading this book with the greatest expectations. I had just completed the kite runner and a thousand splendid suns and I very eagerly wanted to read more about Afganisthan. especially from a different author.. someone with another perspective. The fact that this book was by Asne Seierstad - a Norwegian journalist. When I read that it was a book about the life of a bookseller who bravely smuggled books into Afganisthan so that people could read "forbidden" books and increase their wordly knowledge, I was intrigued. Somehow, I wasn't too pleased with the book when I was done with it. It seemed to lack "the touch of life". Asne stayed with the bookseller and his family and observed them keenly and wrote about them. The book is very descriptive about their lifestyle and you get to learn so much from just reading about the day to day activities of a normal family in Afganisthan. I personally however felt that the book lacked the emotional touch. Even when she wrote about tragedies, she couldn't get me to cry (and I cry easily..so it is not a tough deal). I didn't feel the book was gripping. I could actually put the book down whenever I wanted and it took me a long time to finish this book.
But you definitely cannot call it a bad book. The insights that it gives into a typical afghan family lifestyle is amazing. And since this is a true story, you know you are getting the right picture. The bookseller and his family members names have been changed to protect their privacy. I started the book imagining Sultan Khan to be a hero-like character... what with his bravery in smuggling books into afganisthan. Instead, I saw the villain in him. the dominating, patriarchal person narrow minded in many many ways. And yet, one fine day he decides to take a young bride much against his wife's wishes. He seemed to have no heart!
Asne should really be commended for her keen observations of the Khan family and her unjust way of not taking any side and just stating the facts. She very rarely talks about herself through the book..and that is refreshing in a way. It is not just a travelogue of a person visiting afganisthan. It is the description of the lives of the members of a family.
Through just this one family so many cultures and social norms becomes clear. This book definitely gives us better insights into the typical day to day lives than khaled hosseini's books.. but it definitely lacks the drama and the ability to move you.