?sne Seierstad was one of Norway’s favourite war correspondents in both Kabul and Baghdad, and so when she wrote a book based on the half year she spent living with a bookseller’s family in Kabul it was an instant bestseller. Unfortunately Seierstad wrote in a genre closer to reality television than to a documentary or a novel, though she subtitled her book “a family drama”. No surprise then, that now that the bookseller has finally been allowed to read the English translation he’s sued her. In the reality tradition, Seierstad has concentrated on sex, illicit affairs and internal family conflicts. She declares in her introduction that everything she writes is true, but that she’s made it “literary”, and that she has anonymised the family. The anonymisation isn’t particulary convincing since there’s only one bookseller in Kabul who sells books to foreigners. She’s also used the transformation of actual experience into family drama to write herself out of the story. Once she’s established her presence in the preface, we hear nothing more of her.

Obviously the too personal stories of family members’ sexual fantasies and affairs and the descriptions of where they keep their money will be the most damaging to the family, but I found Seierstad’s respectless descriptions of their lives and possessions almost as annoying. Descriptions are Euro-centric and derogatory, as when the lace on a bridal veil is characterised as “synthetic lace like on Soviet curtains” (page 96 in Norwegian version, my translation).

Sidsel Natland recently wrote a good piece with more or less my point of view, though she doesn’t mention the Soviet lace. Apart from that, the media has been almost totally on Seierstad’s side.

Surprisingly, I can’t find anything online about the bookseller suing Seierstad in English, except a brief report from the English version of Aftenposten. Surely this is odd: the book was published in Britain in August, and has been published in 17 other langauges this year, yetreviews seem clueless as to its ethical problems. I suppose the book is less prominent in Britain than it is in little Norway where everyone loves ?sne Seierstad.

There are good sides to the book, if you look past its ethical bankrupcy. Though its quality is a very long way from Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel A Handmaid’s Tale, it portrays a society that is frighteningly similar. Without its claims of reality perhaps this would not have as strong an effect as it does.

2 thoughts on “reality kabul

  1. andedammen

    Das Ding an sich
    “Jeg har ikke tolket noe. Jeg har skrevet det jeg har sett.” Ganske sterk pÂstand, m jeg si, og ikke

  2. Anonymous

    You may find it interesting to visit the pages about…

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

Recommended Posts

Machine Vision Presentations

Drones in Society conference

I’m (virtually) attending Elisa Serifinalli’s conference Drones in Society: New Visual Aesthetics today, and will be presenting work-in-progress exploring how drones are presented in the 500 novels, movies, artworks, games and other stories that we have analysed in the Database of Machine […]

Machine Vision

Cultural Representations of Machine Vision: An Experimental Mixed Methods Workshop

Call for submissions to a workshop, Bergen, Norway
Workshop dates: 15-17 August 2022
Proposals due: 15 June

The Machine Vision in Everyday Life project invites proposals for an interdisciplinary workshop using qualitative approaches and digital methods to analyse how machine vision is represented in art, science fiction, games, social media and other forms of cultural and aesthetic expression.

Digital Humanities Machine Vision

What do different machine vision technologies do in fiction and art?

For the Machine Vision in Everyday Life project we’ve analysed how machine vision technologies are portrayed and used in 500 works of fiction and art, including 77 digital games, 190 digital artworks and 233 movies, novels and other narratives. You can browse […]