In opinion pieces and editorials, it has become almost obligatory these days to say that Afghanistan has been forgotten by U.S. policymakers since their attention turned to Iraq. But recent events seem to indicate that Afghans are doing their best to enter the Western world. No, I don't mean that they are building new roads, opening up to the forces of globalization, and overcoming the last remnants of the Taliban. It's that they are learning the pleasures and benefits of litigation.
Case in point: the controversy over a book that is not only a European bestseller but also an extraordinary read, Asne Seirstad's The Bookseller of Kabul. It's one of two books released this season that delve into the culture of Afghanistan and bring up rich treasures for the foreign reader. The other, The Storyteller's Daughter, is by British television journalist Saira Shah, best known for her award-winning documentary Beneath the Veil on the oppression of women by the Taliban government of Afghanistan.
For her part, Seirstad seems to have delved deeper than her subjects liked. A journalist seemingly without fear, the blond Norwegian reporter was one of the brigade of media that invaded Kabul along with the forces of the Northern Alliance in November of 2001. There she met an urbane bookseller, Sultan Khan (as she re-names him in the interests of his privacy).
Seirstad was fascinated by a man who had been arrested three times by the Communist regime for selling banned books; whose bookstore had been repeatedly ransacked by the Taliban; who was passionately committed to Persian poetry, to Sufi mysticism, and to the preservation of the culture of Afghanistan. When she told him that she wished to write a book about him, he simply said "Thank you" ...1
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Books & Culture's Books of the Week: Remember Afghanistan?
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