Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Reality in Kabul
Jill writes about Åsne Seierstad and the Bookseller from Kabul. Seierstad has written about her life with a family in Afghanistan, and now she is being sued for millions, for harming the integrity and honour of the family.

While the book does reveal things about the family which, acording to experts, can be damaging, we don't know what they agreed on in advance. What did Åsne say she was? What did the bookseller think she was? Did she make the mistake of revealing more than he thought any sane human being could reveal? Did he make the mistake of underestimating her skills of observation and her ability to write and get her writing published? Did she think they understood what it meant, to be studied by a journalist? Did he think a woman would not have a mind of her own, but write what he expected her to write?

The book is interesting because Seierstad obviusly gets behind the veil, and learns about a culture frequently unavailable to us, and the contrast between their obvious lack and Seierstad's success is distinct. But would we have been as sympathetic to the bookseller's plight if he had been a rich man? Would we think that he must have been misled and taken advantage of if he had been a wealthy westerner and Åsne a hungry Afghan journalist?

I really don't know who is right in this matter. Seierstad is keeping quiet. That makes me wonder: what does she not write? To me, her book seems to hold back, where a reality series would have pushed forwards: to know it all, to reveal it all. Now the bookseller is draving attention to himself. What will this do to his family, his honour and integrity? He obviously knows enough about western culture to know that he can sue Seierstad and demand a part of what she has earned. What else does he know about how things work, for instance media attention in the west?

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