In 2002, Åsne Seierstad takes a very bold step when she decides to spend around 4 months of her time with the family of Sultan Khan who is a book seller in Kabul, Afghanistan. She lives, eats and sleeps with Sultan’s large family and talks with them about their lives, stories they have to tell about everything that is going on around them and that happened around them.
Sultan Khan has a passion for books and he takes a lot of pain to sell books to all who wants to buy from them. Sultan Khan also seeks out opportunities to make profit by scouting disposed books looking for antique books which could fetch him a good sum if sold to the right customer.
My first impression about Sultan Khan was that he was a very progressive thinking person especially if he allowed a foreign journalist to live with his family and talk to them about their daily lives, aspirations and thoughts. But as and when I read more and more, my impression was quite changed. Sultan has progressive thoughts about lots of them but not about his family especially about the women in the house.
Åsne Seierstad provides a good detailed account of the living situation of an unusual Afghanistan family. The family is unusual considering that they are educated and not poor even though they are not very rich. Neither do they have to struggle to find food for each day. This may not be the case of other families.
This book is all about Sultan’s family and very little about Sultan. It is about how “progressive” Sultan rules over his family. This book is about a family leading a not-so-miserable life compared to other people in Afghanistan. There are a lot of details about love, proposals, marriage etc.
My problem with this book was that I had to stop myself in between and wonder if I am reading a fiction or a non-fiction. How can a person write with intimate details about another personespecially when the person concerned is a member of an Afghan family? All the people in Sultan’s family seems to open their hearts to Asne and talk even about things they would never want to discuss with their own family. I have no idea how she was able to communicate with all of them to get all these details. Asne wrote the whole book as if she was not present anywhere near the Khan family during the time she spent with them. This is what actually makes you wonder about the fiction/non-fiction part.
Overall this book is an interesting read if you are not expecting something great. Remember this is not a work of fiction.
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