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Follow her as she prepares and partakes the "bread for the stomach" in http://beforesixdiet.blogspot.com/ . And while you are full at it, she offers you the "bread for the soul" in her travels by foot and by thoughts in http://footandfire.blogspot.com/ Happy Reading!

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul
Asne Sierstad
Paperback, 276 pages
Virago, 2004

Kabul is in Afghanistan and Mikrorayon is the hometown of our bookseller. When Journalist-author Asne Sierstad came to buy books from Sultan Khan after she joined the army operations for days searching for news, she became interested to the life lived by the man whose hopes is to build a huge library after the war ends. Sultan Khan had dedicated his life salvaging books in the name of Afghani literature and culture, and in the process, he was able to save some old books from wherever source. But keeping the books safe from illiterate soldiers who burn anything with living things on the cover or anything that seems immoral is a challenge that could even mean his liberty and life.

 This extraordinary passion led the author to turn more stones and she proposed to live with the household of Sultan Khan. She was able to live with the Khans for four months and the resulting tale reveals a portrait of an Afghani family and culture. But for me, this book brought Afghanistan and the Afghani people closer to me. When I hear Afghanistan, 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden come to mind immediately and nothing more. But this book sent me some intimate understanding of the suffering brought by the event and the war that ensued to hunt Osama to the lives of an Afghani which turned their village into rubble.

I like how the author broke to me her discovery by revealing the thoughts and aspirations of almost all of Khan's immediate extended family in a chapter or two. While I admired Sultan Khan for his being a passionate bookseller and for his extraordinary dream of building a huge library to house important books for the Afghan culture, as well as his adoration for liberalism, I would also abhor him for his patriarchal ways in the family, and pitied the women and their lots. With the author, I was able to experience Afghani proposals and weddings, see how they define and treat crime and punishment, understand their need to be liberated from war, feel the impracticality of wearing a burka and the pain of not being able to choose whom to marry, hear each of them dream, aspire and express their fear, peep into the Muslim faith in their side of the world and peppered with poetry by Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh.

Now, Afghanistan has flesh to me. It is a plus factor that the author told in a lyrical manner her observations, with anecdotes and intimate portraits which are balanced with some humor.