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Seierstad, Åsne 1970–

Seierstad, Åsne 1970–

PERSONAL: Born 1970, in Lillehammer, Norway; daughter of Dag Seierstad (a political scientist) and Froydis Guldahl (a writer). Education: Attended Oslo University and Moscow University.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Virago Press, Brettenham House, Lancaster Place, London WC2E 7EN, England.

CAREER: Writer, television war correspondent, translator, and journalist.

WRITINGS:

With Their Backs to the Wall: Portraits of Serbia, Virago (London, England), 2000.

Bokhandleren i Kabul: et familiedrama, Cappelen (Oslo, Norway), 2002, translation by Ingrid Christopherson published as The Bookseller of Kabul, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.

Hundre og én dag: en reportasjereise, Cappelen (Oslo, Norway), 2003, translation by Ingrid Christopherson published as A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, Virago (London, England), 2004.

Author of translations.

The Bookseller of Kabul has been translated more than two dozen languages.

SIDELIGHTS: Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad is a print and television journalist who is well known throughout her native Norway and the Scandinavian countries. Adept at several languages, including Chinese, Russian, and Spanish, she has been a translator and foreign-language reporter for a variety of Scandinavian newspapers. She has covered the Chechen war, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the fall of Baghdad, and other conflicts in Serbia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.

Hundre og én dag: en reportasjereise, published in English translation as A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal in 2004, covers the U.S. invasion of Iraq during the second Gulf War. "Her book focuses far less on the big, dramatic events than on the war's impact on ordinary Iraqis," noted Julie Wheelwright in the London Independent, adding that it portrays "the gut-wrenching tragedy of thousands who were—quite literally—caught in the crossfire." She talks to a grieving grandfather whose grandson was killed in a civilian massacre at the el Nasser market. A visit to a morgue results in photographs too graphic and too gruesome to be published. She tells about her translator, Aliya, who longs for Saddam Hussein's return and who fell into a sort of unresponsive state of numbness after the dictator was deposed. While dodging the sanitized view of the country provided by her official handlers, she manages to travel with a child psychologist to look at the war's effect on children. "While more ambitious narratives may provide more context," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "this is a valuable impressionistic portrait." Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley called the book "required reading for anyone who truly wants to delve into the complexities of life in Iraq under Saddam and during the war and its aftermath." A Kirkus Reviews contributor described Seierstad's reporting as "dispatches scorched by the flames of battle and delivered by Seierstad, to enormous effect, in tense, crisp language."

Bokhandleren i Kabul: et familiedrama, published in English translation as The Bookseller of Kabul in 2003, is Seierstad's acclaimed story of the life and household of patriarchal Afghani bookseller Sultan Khan. Seierstad first encountered Khan and his bookshop while she was covering Northern Alliance soldiers during the war in Afghanistan. She was intrigued by the presence of a bookseller in a fundamentalist Taliban country. After she and Khan became friends, he agreed to let her spend some time in his home to report on the status of life in Afghanistan during and after the Taliban regime. With Khan's youngest daughter as an interpreter, Seierstad spent four months living and observing Khan and his family.

In Seierstad's telling, Khan is a complex, often maddeningly contradictory man. Literate, well-traveled, and stoic in the face of adversity and opposition, Khan resolved to continue to sell books that preserve Afghan culture and ideas, even after several instances in which communists or the Taliban raided his shop and burned books deemed offensive or immoral. To preserve his stock, he carefully stashed hundreds of books in dozens of locations throughout Kabul. Yet, while waging a personal war against censorship, Khan upheld the harsh traditions of his homeland in his family life. Seierstad presents tellingly vivid accounts of his tyrannical hold over his household; how he took a sixteen-year-old second wife after his first wife, Sharifa, turned fifty; how Sharifa was expected to teach the new wife how to care for the master of the house; how youngest sister Leila was expected to give up her independence to serve as the household's unpaid perpetual servant; and how even Khan's sons had to bend to Khan's iron will, foregoing education and helping him run his bookselling business. Instead of a story about an enlightened man who championed the continued freedom of thought in a country that tried so hard to repress it, Seierstad found "a world of repression, dirt and crushed hopes, which in her view is symptomatic of the nation as a whole," commented Sheena Gurbakhash in Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. Even after the ouster of the repressive fundamentalist Taliban, in Afghanistan, women, in particular, still suffered in the stranglehold of tradition.

"Seierstad presents a vivid, intimate, yet frustrating picture of family life after the Taliban," commented Library Journal contributor Lucille M. Boone. The book "allows us a glimpse of Afghan life that transcends the daily news," commented Linda Simon in World and I. Booklist reviewer Ellen Loughran called The Bookseller of Kabul a "fascinating, thought-provoking look at Afghanistan," while a Publishers Weekly critic found it an "astounding portrait of a nation recovering from war, undergoing political flux and mired in misogyny and poverty." Carol Bere, writing in Women's Review of Books, concluded that, "whether fiction, nonfiction, or so-called immersion journalism, provocative works like The Bookseller of Kabul add to the growing body of literature that explores the situation of Afghan women from historical, social, and cultural perspectives."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, March 3, 2004, Sheena Gurbakhash, review of The Bookseller of Kabul.

Booklist, November 1, 2003, Ellen Loughran, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 477; March 15, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, p. 1261.

Bookseller, July 30, 2004, "A Booksellers' Hit," p. 15.

Contemporary Review, July, 2004, Karen Steele, "The Women behind Kabul's Bookseller," p. 54.

Entertainment Weekly, October 31, 2003, S.L. Allen, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 78.

Independent (London, England), December 10, 2004, Julie Wheelwright, "Åsne Seierstad: Behind the Front Lines."

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 1116; February 15, 2004, review of A Hundred and One Days, p. 220.

Library Journal, December, 2003, Lucille M. Boone, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 148.

Mother Jones, May 12, 2005, Lisa Katayama, "A Hundred and One Days; An Interview with Åsne Seierstad."

New Statesman, September 1, 2003, Yvonne Ridley, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 37.

Nordic Business Report, September 22, 2003, "Subject of Norwegian Book Considers Memoirs."

Publishers Weekly, September 29, 2003, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 55; September 29, 2003, Edward Nawotka, "Sultan Rules the Roost: PW Talks with Åsne Seierstad"; November 22, 2004, John F. Baker, "Basic Books Publisher Liz Maguire Bought a New Book by the Norwegian Author of the Bestselling Bookseller of Kabul," p. 11; March 14, 2005, review of A Hundred and One Days, p. 60.

School Library Journal, June, 2004, Jackie Gropman, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 182.

Smithsonian, September, 2004, Eliot Marshall, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 114.

Spectator, August 30, 2003, Matthew Leeming, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 31.

Women's Review of Books, March, 2004, Carol Bere, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 16.

World and I, December, 2003, Linda Simon, review of The Bookseller of Kabul, p. 235.

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