Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

Originally I was not planning on participating in this Bookfest read because I just didn't think I would enjoy it. Mirlandra made a library run and picked it up, read it, and passed it along to me. Since she went through the efforts of handing me the book, I figured the least I could do was read it. I am now so very grateful to Ani for recommending it, Mirlandra for getting me a copy, and that I had the time to sit and read it. I really, really appreciated it.

There are so many comments to make about this book. Seierstad lived among this Afgahni family for a period of time in order to learn their family story and write a book to share with the outside world. She lived among them, ate their food, wore their clothes and adapted to their habits (somewhat). It's a fascinating look into the life of a "middle class" family in Afghanistan.

Obviously there are hardships in just about any culture that you look at. Sin is everywhere and can be avoided by no one. (Romans 3:23) Everyone is both a carrier and a victim of it. Every culture fosters and breeds its own contempt for morality and Biblical law. Afghanistan is no different. They should not be pitied anymore or less than a Russian, American or Chinese man. We are all the same before Christ without His compassionate grace and mercy in pardoning our sins and making us holy so that we can stand pure and wholeheartedly before Him.

I think this is one of the rare books in which the story teller gives you the facts of the matter - as black hearted and dirty as possible - without feeling the need to open up all the gory details. You get the point without the graphics. I appreciated that very much because it allows you to stay tuned to the story instead of wondering if there is very much value in the time you are spending reading it. She shows the desolation without making you want to turn your eyes away. Because of this, I feel I can safely recommend this book to anyone -- and would!

Obviously there is a great deal of difference between a Muslim and a Christian culture. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes studying either "religion" could tell you so. As a Christian reading this particular book and hearing about Muslim culture and custom, I can affirm that there is more freedom in Christ that in Mohammad. The differences are sometimes huge and sometimes small and minute. Take for example Sultan's (our main character and the leader of the family which we are a part of for the purposes of this book)approach to taking care of the poor and needy. He quotes Mohammad as saying, "First take care of yourself, then your closest family, then other relatives, then neighbors, and last the unknown poor." (Page 57). Contrast that with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in which we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Anyone near us who needs help, essentially. Friend and foe, slave or free. Why? Because we all have equal standing in Christ. (Galations 3:28)

Seierstad spends most of her time focusing on one of the main areas of oppression in Afghanistan culture and that is the oppression of women. In Afghani culture women are subserviant to the men. They do not have the right to speak against their authority figure in any manner, be it the clothes they wear, the people they talk to, whether or not they may leave the house, and who they marry! (An unthinkable thought in western culture.) Men rule, women drool, for lack of a better phrase. It would almost be better if women did not have brains for then they wouldn't feel the sorrow of not being allowed to use them. Again I will reference Galations 3:28 where scripture (God) clearly states that He makes no distinction between male and female. All have equal standing in His eyes. Both are welcome to come before the throne of grace. Either sex may find their completeness and joy in Him without having to ask the other for permission. His gift of salvation and freedom is freely given.

This is the obvious culture difference and naturally I agree with Seierstad's "western sentiments" but not just because they are western culture ideas. I agree with it because it is Biblical truth. Women are due honor, respect and dignity just as much as any man. Each are given different roles to play in the home and society but the roles compliment each other and are not beaten down and discriminated against by the other. They are supported, defended and each revered for being a special creation in Christ. As a Christian man, it is his responsibility to defend the honor and dignity of the woman -- more specifically his own wife. He is to love and treasurer her as a great gift. As a Christian woman it is her duty to honor and respect the man -- specifically her husband -- and support him in his life's work and endeavors. Each role compliments the others, bows before the other and humbly submits itself to the position of being the servant. In that servitude we see a picture of the marriage of Christ to His bride and it is beautiful.

I am grateful for many things that I previously took for granted before reading this book. Again I'd like to thank Ani for bringing this selection to the group. It was both insightful and enjoyable and I hope that everyone gets a moment to read it! I'm looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought of the book!


At 4:01 PM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

I also appreciated reading this book~within the life of one family, the author managed to show a considerable variety of Afghan life. And it certainly made me grateful to be a woman living here and now!

At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Maw Books said...

I have heard so many things about this book that I am planning on reading it this year. Thanks for the great review!

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Sherry said...

I must add this one to my TBR list. I've been interested in life in Muslim cultures, and in Afghanistan in particular for a while now. Current events, The Kite Runner, and just an interest in comparative religion and culture have all combined to create an interest that has not yet come to its end.

Thanks for the review.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger calon lan said...

I just started reading this one, and I'm so glad it's on the list for the year. It's beautifully crafted, without being sentimental or even attempting to sympathize heavily with anyone. What I also like is that most of all it's a book about being Afghani, and not necessarily about being a Muslim. I like that the author has managed to distinguish the two without actually trying to separate them (which might be impossible now).

At 12:16 AM, Blogger calon lan said...

I couldn't put the book down, so I finished it this evening. Exquisitely beautiful and terribly sad at the same time. So much promise in a place of such natural beauty, trapped in a system that will continue to hold the people back. Tragic. I'm grateful that the author has put a human face on a place that has been so quickly forgotten by the mainstream media.

At 8:06 AM, Blogger elrj said...

Yes, Ani, thank you for the selection!

And thank you, Carrie, for the review. Your comment that this book made you thankful for things you previously hadn't thought of resonated with me deeply.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Ani said...

Great review, Carrie! I always enjoy seeing a book from another's perspective.
Seierstad has also written a book about Serbia, called With Their Backs to the World. Very helpful in understanding the current situation of Kosovo declaring independence. Also, I'd recommend East of New York, West of Kabul, by Tamim Ansary, for anyone interested in Afghani culture. He grew up in Afghanistan, the son of a Swedish-American mother and Afghani father. Fascinating book!

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Mirlandra said...

Wow! A great read, and as Carrie says, well written, something you can learn from and engage in without becoming overwhelmed emotionally etc. It opened my eyes on another level to the Muslim culture, Afghanistan in a big way, and how important it is that we keep pressing forward with the Gospel until every ear has heard. What freedom there could be in Christ for these people! And, as a book lover, it was fun to read about a book glutton. :)

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

I really disliked this book. It was highly biased and because of that, it was unbelievable. I couldn't trust the narration. People in the western world are so biased against Muslim culture right now that they are reading this and saying, "Yep, this is exactly why Muslim culture is bad," which I think is nothing more than an attempt on the author's part to capitalize on people's fear.

My online book group, here, also reviewed this book.


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