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6 November 2017: Book of the Week: 'The Bookseller of Kabul'

 We add many new listings to our website on a weekly basis. The new additions vary in subject, topic, style and genre from week to week. This week’s ‘book of the week’ is a relatively modern text written in a war zone; The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. 

The Bookseller of Kabul was first published in November 2002. Originally published in Norwegian, the work was an instant bestseller. It is a non-fiction book based on bookseller Shah Muhammad Rais and his family in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the purpose of the publication and anonymity his name was changed to Sultan Khan. The work has a novelistic approach, focusing on the family as characters, whilst exploring their daily issues. It evaluates many different aspects of day-to-day life as well as gender roles and Afghan society. Rais sold books that were originally banned by the Taliban, essentially risking his life to continue serving the community through his business. 
 
The author of this work, Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian freelance journalist. She has written many accounts of everyday life in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and now Chechnya.  Seierstad entered Afghanistan two weeks after the September 11 attacks and followed the Northern Aliance into Kabul where she spent three months. It was there that she met Rais and then moved in with the bookseller and his family, disguised by wearing a burka.

Following the publication of the work, Rais sought asylum for himself and his family in Europe as he felt certain things revealed made their lives unsafe in Afghanistan. His fear for their safety amplified after Persian language copies became available. 
 

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this work due to the family’s reaction to what Seierstad had written about them. Specifically, how she depicted their family life.  Shah
Muhammad Rais later published his own version of the story titled Once Upon a Time There Was a Bookseller in Kabul due to his disagreement with Seierstad’s original publication. Much of the book’s descriptions were contested by Rais, and his second wife Suraia even sued the author in Norway for defamation. They felt that Seierstad had humiliated themselves and Afghanistan as a country. This case was well publicised and although Seierstad was first charged with invading the family's privacy, this conviction was eventually overruled. The proceedings and complaints of Rais took almost seven years to cease. 
 
Our particular copy is a first English edition of the work. It was translated from the Norwegian into English by Ingid Christophersen. The first English edition appeared in 2003, the following year to the true first edition.  Our copy is in an excellent condition, being overall FINE and in a FINE dustwrapper.
 
This work, whilst surrounded by controversy, is an interesting read. Seierstad’s intentions were to write about this seemingly friendly man whose livelihood as a bookseller has been affected time and time again by the political climate. However, she uncovered a darker side to the family dynamics and the role of this seemingly tyrannical patriarch.
 

 

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Just to let you know that the book arrived safely yesterday, and that I am very pleased with it. The condition of the book is excellent and the dustwrapper (which with this book is more often 'tatty') is almost perfect. Nice transaction I would say.

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