The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad, Little Brown and Company, 2003, 288 pp
Back to Afghanistan. A Norwegian journalist, after spending six weeks reporting on the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001, spent months living with an Afghan family in Kabul. This book is an account of what she learned.
The head of the family is Sultan Khan, a bookseller who survived all the different regimes, the burning of his books, periods of exile in Pakistan and time in prison. He believes passionately in books, literature and education as the way for his country to enter the modern world. Yet he has two wives and is the undisputed patriarch over his wives, brothers, sisters and sons.
Seierstad portrays this welter of conflicting ideas and particularly the plight of Afghan women with a balanced reportorial prose. She seems to be saying, "This is the way it is." Once again I was left with a sense of my good fortune to live in America, but also from the author's interpretation, an understanding of the slow progress of a civilization from ancient customs and almost barbarian oppression to an awareness of themselves. I felt more strongly than ever the importance of books and interchange of ideas between cultures as a means to bring about more peace in the world.
If only the leaders of the world could or would better understand both the cultures they lead and those they oppose. Perhaps Plato was right about the qualities and education required for leadership.