The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul

Book - 2004
Average Rating:
Rate this:
From the Publisher: With The Bookseller of Kabul, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad has given readers a first-hand look at Afghani life as few outsiders have seen it. Invited to live with Sultan Khan, a bookseller in Kabul, and his family for months, this account of her experience allows the Khans to speak for themselves, giving us a genuinely gripping and moving portrait of a family, and of a country of great cultural riches and extreme contradictions. For more than 20 years, Sultan Khan has defied the authorities-whether Communist or Taliban-to supply books to the people of Kabul. He has been arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned, and has watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. Yet he had persisted in his passion for books, shedding light in one of the world's darkest places. This is the intimate portrait of a man of principle and of his family-two wives, five children, and many relatives sharing a small four-room house in this war ravaged city. But more than that, it is a rare look at contemporary life under Islam, where even after the Taliban's collapse, the women must submit to arranged marriages, polygamous husbands, and crippling limitations on their ability to travel, learn and communicate with others.
Publisher: New York : Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, 2004.
Edition: 1st Back Bay pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780316159418
Characteristics: xvi, 288, 9 p. ; 21 cm.

Related Resources


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 03, 2019

I couldn't put this book down. A glimpse into the every day life of an Afghan family. How hard it is for their women and daughters to suffer as they do. The young boys have a rough life as well. Yet their desires are similar to people everywhere. A must read!

This profile of a highly literate but tyrannical businessman (and his long-suffering family) shows how enormous are the gulfs between generations and genders in Afghanistan, and how difficult it will be to bridge them in the near (100 years? 1,000 years?) future.

Sep 20, 2016

An intimate and compelling account of the customs, attitudes and religious belief at family level in a war torn country. Asne Seierstad has gone a long way towards making the incomprehensible comprehensible telling the story of the Khan family in Afghanistan.

Dec 26, 2015

This memoir is by a Norwegian journalist who spends several months living with an "elegant, erudite" bookseller and his family in Kabul. He, his youngest sister, and eldest son, speak good English, but the rest of the extended family (13 at one point) who share four rooms, do not. These three are her interpreters on the Afghan world. She reports from their point of view, even when she accompanies one or another of them, or another relative. The bookseller (she changes the names, though they do not ask her to) appears very liberal in his ardent desire to preserve the literature of his culture. Yet he's very traditional in his home life. He keeps his younger sons from getting an education, so they can help run his "empire," and rides herd on the women of his household. Sometimes I wish she'd have been more open about her presence in the action of the story. She says in the beginning that she'd never been more angry or felt more like hitting someone than when living with them. The issue was "always how the men treated the women." Yet you'd never know she was there. This has nothing to do with the book itself, but I also wonder how the 12 years since its publication, 12 more years of war, have affected the life of this middle class family in Kabul. An important book, given the lack of other views on "real life" in this important country.

Sep 07, 2015

This would likely be helpful to US readers...need ebook or LP please!!

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

An intimate and unusual account of a Norwegian journalist’s four month stay with an Afghan bookstore owner and his family. The bookseller, on the surface a liberal intellectual, is a tyrannical patriarch in private, and perpetuates his society’s repression of women. Seierstad’s revelations of the situation Afghan women face are shocking and depressing.

Jan 10, 2015

I learned a lot about the daily grin of living in Afghanistan. How little boys order gown women about. How there is little food and amenities. How there is erratic water and electricity. What a miserable life for the Afghan women and girls as they have little say about their destiny, yet they make due and can be happy about the little things.

Sep 06, 2013

Fascinating. Compelling non-fiction book about people and a society not our own. The characters are fully illuminated and the other-worldness of their lives well deliniated.
The author does show a degree of western judgementalism, however. Nonetheless, one is grateful that one is a woman in western society; and one is grateful also for our affluence. The difference between our lives and theirs is astounding.
The family in the book later sued the author for the negative impact this book had upon their lives. At least one character in the book had to leave her country.

ChristchurchLib Jan 15, 2013

"In early 2002, just after the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad lived with an Afghan family for several months. In this eye-opening portrait, she relates the inspiring deeds of the family patriarch (he is a bookseller who has been harassed and jailed under three different regimes for selling officially banned books), but primarily focuses on the family's domestic life and the oppression of women by male family members. The book's fascinating, detailed look at a private world made it a bestseller." January 2013 Biography and Memoir Newsletter

Nov 30, 2011

Such a clear expression smoothly takes you to the end. Pleasure to read. Learned more about Afghanistan than any other media so far.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability
Aug 11, 2011

LNT thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at ALCO

To Top