Half-a-century ago Capote’s “In Cold Blood” fueled reader appetite for fictionalized non-fiction. It’s a genre with risk. Outstanding reporter-tales, like Seierstad’s “Bookseller,” may lose in credibility what they gain in narrative polish.
Summing her year in the Islamic home of Sultan Khan, Kabul bookseller, she shocks Western readers by revealing the filth and deprivation in an Afghani’s above average, middle-class compound.
Khan’s two-wife family relationships brilliantly underline fierce religious extremism, and tragic personal rivalries and humiliations. Unfortunately these stories of Muslim men and women much depend on second-hand information. With no knowledge of the language the writer relies on translated dialogue and family backgrounds provided by three biased, English-speaking relatives.
Soon she becomes suspiciously conspicuous by her absence from dialogue and scene. On the plus side, it’s a close look at Islamic patriarchal domination and matriarchal submission; and the tantalizing mosaic of daily life in Kabul today — the sweet meats, the coldly elaborate betrothal rites, the greasy aftertaste of mutton-fat fried foods.