Lit Circle 1 - Rachel
Foreword - Chapter Three
The foreword of The Bookseller of Kabul is a vital piece of information in order to understand the perspective of the book. In this part the author, Asne Seierstad, explains how she met Sultan Khan and how he took her in so she could write this book about his family. Each chapter of the book is a story told to Seierstad from either Sultan Khan or a family member.
In Chapter one, The Proposal, the author tells about Sultan Khan wanting a second wife. Sultan's engagement was a non-traditional Afghan way because in this culture the suitor cannot ask for a daughter's hand himself, he must have a family member do it. However, none of Sultan's family members wanted him to get a second wife because it would be a disgrace to his current wife, Sharifa; so Sultan went himself to the parents of the girl, Sonya, he wanted to marry. He pretended he had a suitor for the Sonya and asked for her hand; but the parents denied saying she was too young. Sultan went for three days asking the same questions and finally the parents agreed. The next day a family member of Sultan went to the parent's with a picture of the suitor, the picture was of Sultan and the parents were very happy. When Sultan told his family of the news they thought he was joking because he didn't ask for Sharifa's blessing, but Sultan and Sonya got married.
Chapter two, Burning Books, is about Sultan's life as a bookseller and how books have always been his life. He had been selling books since he was a teenager and opened his first shop in Kabul. He sold a huge variety of books but every time a new ruler came about, some of the books he sold were illegal. He was thrown in prison for selling illegal books, but bribed a guard to sneak books in for him to read. When he was free he continued selling illegal books but he took more precautions. After his second prison time his mother convinced him to marry so he married a beautiful girl, Sharifa, and started a family. He continued his business and would continue being precautious by doing things like: squiggling out pictures, gluing business cards over pictures, and hiding 10,000 books. He had a plan that when a reliable government took over he would donate his books to a public library.
The third chapter, Crime and Punishment, describes Sharifa living alone with her daughter in Peshawar while Sultan lives in Kabul with Sonya. Every Thursday the ladies of Sharifa's neighborhood would get together for prayer and tea and tell gossip. The first story told was about a young girl, Saliqa, who was badly beaten because she shamed her family. She had gotten into a taxi with a strange boy and sat on a park bench with him. Word had gotten to her family and her uncle beat Saliqa. The second story told was about Jamila. She was married but her husband was always out of town so she lived with his family. The police saw a man climbing out of Jamila's window and told her husband's brother, who found proof that she was cheating on their brother. Jamila was kicked out and killed by her own brothers for shaming the family.
Each of these chapters is written in third person. Each story told is from the perspective of whichever family member had told her the story. The tone also changes for each chapter depending on who told the story. At first the chapters were a little confusing because there is no background information, the author goes strictly into the story. As the chapter goes on the information makes sense and a little history is given to make connections.
Lit Circle 2 - Julia
Suicide and Song
This chapter discusses what love and relationships are Afghanistan. According to Seierstad, love is not romantic or a fairytale, but a business arrangement in which women are bartered and sold. Small acts of affection or sexuality by a woman can lead to disgrace of the family’s name or prison for committing what they consider in Afghanistan, a serious crime. Seierstad shares several poems written by Afghan women who account their intense pain, disappointment, suffering, hopelessness, and opposition to the relationships they are forced into.
The Business Trip
In this chapter, Seierstad recounts the journey Sultan takes from Afghanistan to Pakistan for business. Afghan’s are not welcome into Pakistan and therefore, he must take an alternative, treacherous route to avoid the authorities. Pakistan’s border was closed to keep the Taliban and terrorists out. During his journey, we learn of the history of Pakistan, the power struggles and hatred between Afghan groups, and Sultan’s contemptuous attitude towards parts of the Islamic religion. After descending from the mountains, Sultan makes his way into the Khyber Pass, a path once traveled by many great and famous men. This area of Pakistan is a fanciful village built up with black-market money and an area of danger.
Sultan makes it home to Sharifa. They discuss Saliqa’s escapades and Sultan expresses his disgust in her. Their conservation continues into a laughing matter as they discuss of Sharifa’s family members and the misfortune in their relationships. The next day, Sharifa and Sultan visit distant relatives to propose marriage for Sultan’s brother Yunus and these relative’s youngest daughter, Belqisa. The arrangement is unsuccessful in that the parents feel the daughter of about thirteen is too young. However, Sultan is confident that this will change, because their wealth and middle class status.
It was now time for Sultan to continue his journey to Lahore, where he could do some business. Here, he bargained to print, book bind, and publish textbooks for the schoolchildren of Afghanistan. The books of the past were centralized on war and killing. UNESCO offered to fund the expenses for the publishing. He came to this location, because respect royalties along with copyrights did not exist, therefore making this project easy and cheap. When he finishes, he heads back to Kabul, a much easier journey. On his journey back, he thinks of and compares his relationships with Sharifa and Sonya. At this point in time, he feels a stronger connection and possibly love and desire for Sonya.
Summary with a Twist
Throughout these two chapters, there is a great sense of sorrow and sympathy for the women who are portrayed as victims. Through her poetic writing and the poems written by Afghan women, one cannot feel anything but pain and possibly vengeance for these women. Nowhere does Seierstad account for the perspective of Afghan women who may be happy with their relationship situation and who possibly are in love. For this reason, it is portrayed that all Afghan women are in an unhappy situation and face severe consequences for their interactions with men. The perspective becomes intriguing as the reader sees Sharifa lack of sympathy towards these young women. By adding this, the reader learns that the women face harsh criticism not only from the men of the community but also the women. There is little support, despite their contempt for their situation. The chapter ends with an unsettling phrase describing Sonya, Sultan’s second wife, as a “delicious child-woman” (66). The overall perception the reader gets is that love is a business to all and that there is little respect and sympathy for the women.
Lit Circle 3 – Sarah
"Do You Want to Make Me Sad?"
In chapter six, the introduction of Sultan’s nuclear family is provided with two marriage proposals. This is the first time we hear about Sultan’s immediate family, so when we find that he is selling one sister for one hundred dollars and giving the other away for free, our overall views on their relationship becomes skewed.
The first sister Bulbula, suffered from an illness which impaired her mental capacity. Because of this, she is given little respect from her family, and her mother seems almost grateful of her departure. However, with the second sister Shalika, we see a very outgoing [yet immature] middle aged biology teacher. In her youth, she passed on many suitors in pursuit of a married man, but as this behavior is forbidden in this culture, she was forced to move on. Unfortunately, she is has no other choice than to marry Wakil, whom she finds little interest in. Though he is well mannered and willing to let her work, her temperament troubles him, hence the title of this chapter.
"No Admission to Heaven"
This chapter provided some political insight during 1996 by listing a variety of laws passed in Kabul. Showing sixteen in total, the reader becomes aware of the extremities that this society faced under a different rule. Near the end of the chapter the author acknowledged these rules and the ones by which ALL women had to follow during this period. A woman was not permitted to leave the house without proper authorization; her place is within the home as a caterer for her husband and their children. If the woman is granted the right to leave, they must always wear their burkas; prohibiting any display of popular culture [knee high skirts and makeup]. Due to the rights of their religion, if these acts are displayed they will not go without punishment, and the abuser will hence forth be severed from their personal ties to heaven.
"Billowing, Fluttering, Winding"
The start of this chapter begins on a lighter note than the other two by introducing a story. Concealing the identity of the person in context, the reader is wound across the city streets through the eyes of one of the many burkas, until her identity is revealed to us when she takes off her head dress. After this, we see that the woman is Shalika, Sultan’s soon to be married sister, whom is roaming the streets shopping for her wedding to be.
In this chapter we see more of Shalika’s manipulative and flirtatious persona with her interactions between the clerks [haggling], and her defiance of her husband with the removal of her face covering (it is forbidden for the woman to show her face before the wedding). After her presence is known, they continue to describe the merchant place they’re in, the bazaar, which hasn’t changed much since the coming of the silk road. Here they look over the vast society of burka’s, each of which [despite the rules] show some sort of feminism with some simple toenail polish and or lipstick. There was once a time where women spoke they’re mind without fear [some revolutionists], but with the coming of age they are forced to find their simple pleasures, such as a tube of lipstick, to conceal their pale unattended lips.
Lit Circle 4 - LaurenA Third-Rate Wedding
This chapter is about Shakila's wedding to Wakil. The night before, the women have a party and feed Shakila the last meal that she will have in her home. The wedding is a large ordeal and is very ornate, although to these people, it is a third-rate wedding. What was especially interesting is the placing of the special cloth. The readers could not tell what this was about, but in the end you find out that if she would have not bled on this cloth during the wedding night, she would have been returned to her family as "used goods".
This chapter gives more background into the lives of Sultan's family. Sultan talks about how the flat that the family lives in used to be nice, before war. Now, it is crushed and old and poor looking. His mother lives with the family in this flat and she goes through the birth of all of her children. Overall, this chapter is more background to the story rather than another story.
This story is about Mansur. He becomes taken by a beautiful woman that he can not see under the burka. She wants a book and he invites her to his house to get it, something that is taboo. Mansur practices a speech for her, but the next day she never shows up. When she finally does, Sultan gives Mansur permission to help her in the shop.
The Call from Ali
Mansur believes that Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, has called him to make the pilgrimage. His father says no, but then suddenly says yes. On the way, Mansur and his friend see many poor cities. After the day of praying Mansur feels like he needs a break. In the end, Mansur says, “I am blessed! I have been forgiven! I have been cleansed!" (pg.162)
The Smell of Dust
This chapter is about Leila and her many jobs. She is the one in the house that takes care of everyone else. Many of her family members belittle her and treat her with disrespect. She takes it in stride and I believe she runs the household. She tries to care for everyone and everyone expects her to take care of them. It is sad the way that she is treated like a slave.
Summary with a Twist
The chapters are written in third-person, and the author's tone is one of sadness. In The Smell of Dust, Leila is forced to take care of everything in the house. She isnt able to do what she wants because she is always cooking or cleaning or taking care of her mother. I think that the author is saddened that a woman has to live her life this way. The author has freedom and feels very saddened that all women cannot have the freedoms that a lot of women take for granted.
Lit Circle 5 - RachelAn Attempt
In this chapter Leila attempts to go back to school to take an English class. She goes to an adult school, without Sultan's permission, but only attends one session because there are boys in the classroom. She is trying to become independent incase Sultan throws her out of his house like he did to his nephew Fazil. Fazil was sent to live with Sultan when his mother, Mariam, could not not afford to take care of him. Fazil worked in the bookshop as payment for his housing and food and did nothing wrong when Sultan made him go back to his mother. Leila doesn't want this to happen to her, so she visits her older sister, Shakila. Together they go the school yard where Shakila works and Leia asks the principal for a teaching job in English. However, in order for Leila to teach she must be registered and have have paper from the Ministry of Education. She does not know how she will get there because it is a long rude and she does not have a male escort, but she is not going to give up.
Can God Die?
This chapter primarily focuses on Fazil, the nephew Sultan threw out. The chapter starts out with Fazil doing detention homework because he did not correctly answer questions about God during class. As he is memorizing the homework about Islam he teaches his grandma what Muhammad would and would not do as she is sipping tea. He is prepared for class in the morning and knows all the answers, but he is too timid to answer because he is afraid of getting smacked with a ruler by the teacher.
Summary with a Twist
Throughout these two chapters we see some struggles both Fazil and Leila face. It is made apparent how difficult getting a degree and traveling for a women is, and we how difficult school can be for children. All Leila needs is to get her papers from the Ministry of Education, but it is too far to travel alone. Even though the author writes in the perspective of the characters, the reader can tell she feels bad for the characters.
Lit Circle 6 - JuliaThe Dreary Room
In this chapter, we are introduced to Sultan’s youngest son, Aimal. At only twelve years old, Aimal is working twelve hours a day, selling food and drink at one of Kabul’s hotel. This hotel was once modern and elegant; however, due to the civil war, the Taliban, and the attacks from the US, the hotel has been destroyed and devastated. Very few tourists come, making Aimal’s days quite boring. They are just now beginning to seriously renovate. Despite Sultan’s passion for books and history, he has not allowed his sons to go to school. He wants them to be businessmen to help build this empire as a family. Aimal is unhappy with this and wishes to go to school and therefore became referred to as “the sad boy.” One day, news spreads of a minister beaten to death by pilgrims. The hotel floods with people who want to hear about the news and the conspiracy theories. Aimal is overcome with sadness over the prisoner, more so than he feels sadness towards his lost childhood.
The carpenter at Sultan’s shop, Jalaluddin, steals postcards from the shop. Jalaluddin is extremely poor and taking care of a large family, many of whom are quite ill. He stole these postcards out of desperation. Sultan is enraged by this, claiming Jalaluddin is trying to ruin his business. Jalaluddin apologizes over and over, begging for forgiveness. His female family members also come over, continuously begging for their forgiveness of him. When Jalaluddin’s father finds out about this incident, he is disgraced by his son and what he has done to their family’s image. He beats his son violently. Sultan has Mansur go to the cops and has the carpenter arrested. Sultan refuses to forgive the carpenter, until he confesses who he sold the postcards to. Not until the very end, when the carpenter is interrogated by the cops, does he confess to selling it to a man named Mahmoud. Mahmoud is then arrested. Mahmoud and Jalaluddin face real prison time now. The carpenter’s family is now left alone, without their brother/husband/father, without food, without money, and without hope.
Summary with a Twist
These two chapters have a negative tone towards Sultan and the power he has over his family and in the community. Aimal greatly desires to go to school and get an education; however, at only twelve, he is forced by Sultan to work. In “The Carpenter,” his family feels bad for the carpenter and his family and do not feel he should go to jail. They can do nothing though and just have to sit by, following Sultan’s orders. As Seierstad says, “When Sultan has decided upon something there is nothing the women in the Khan family can do” (232) and really neither can his sons. Mansur is beaten down verbally by his father when he asks his father to not punish the carpenter so severely. Sultan’s power also negatively affects Jalaluddin and his family. Jalaluddin is brutally beaten and shamed by his father in front of everyone, sent to central prison, where real prisoners go, his reputation and career destroyed, and his family left struggling to survive all because of Sultan and his selfish power. Sultan has ruined so many people’s lives by taking advantage of his power and position.
lit circle 7 - Sarah
MY MOTHER OSAMA
“My Mother Osama” tells the story of Tajmir, Sultan’s distant relative (nephew) whom, prior to this chapter, the reader had no idea existed. This out of place character devotes his life to his mother (Sultan’s older sister) by obeying every single thing his mother asks of him. The one thing that he does manage to keep from his mother is some of the pay he requires from his work as an interpreter for English soldiers and journalists. His recent employer Bob, a journalist on the hunt for Al-Qaida (specifically Osama Bin Laden), takes him into dangerous territory to acquire a good story. Hoping to get back before his two year anniversary, Tajmir is dragged around Afghanistan (specifically Khost) where they run into two opposing families; the Khan family and the Mustafa family. Though they oppose each other, the two sides have identical means of power and both warn Tajmir and Bob to be careful of the other side. In this region, we learn that homosexuality is a well know practice amongst men, and is very well accepted throughout Afghanistan as a whole [Dancing Ladyboys, learn about them in ANTH 161].
This chapter seemed a bit out of place in accordance to the rest of the book. It had no particular relations with any of the other chapters, but it did give us a differing viewpoint of family life from someone outside of Sultan’s direct family. With Sultan’s family, the women live under direct rule of them men, whether older or younger, however with Tajmir’s family we see him living under the direct rule of his mother. Though this is not common, it was kind of a relief from what we have been accustomed to in the rest of the book. Plus he loved his mother “more than anything in the world,” so the fact that he obeyed her every whim seemed almost fitting. His adoration for his mother kind of lightened the mood of the previous chapters, but didn’t quite prepare us for the one to come.
Lit Circle 8 - LaurenA Broken Heart
Sultan’s sister Leila has been getting letters from a man, something taboo. Leila is worried her family will find out and ashamed that she is accepting them, but she also dreams about a different life, one with freedom! The man is named Karim and has only seen her once, but fell in love with her then. He becomes friends with her nephew so that there is an excuse to go to their house and see her. Leila has other suitors, but dreams of Karim because he has said he would help her get a job as a teacher, the one thing she wants the most! Soon, others find out about the courtship and stops it. Both Karim and Leila are sad and confused with the outcome.
The epilogue ties up all the stories in the book. First, you find out that the large extended family has split because of an argument. The reader also learns that Karim has left the country because of the end of the courtship. The family continues to go on with life and Sultan stays the exact same way.
Summary with a Twist
Again, the chapters are written in third person. These chapters are written to tie up all of the stories in the book. The author stays completely neutral with all of the scenarios and with all of the family feuds.