Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Chronicling Catastrophes – an interview with &#197sne Seierstad, journalist and author of The Bookseller of Kabul

She says she tries in the book to simply describe what goes on. She was there as an observer, not a reformer, and she was very careful not to voice her own opinions. She made sure that anything which she did not witness first-hand, was double-checked. Every person who played a part in a story was interviewed, not just once. “Sometimes the truth could only be found after digging through layers of sorrow”.

“Perhaps my opinion still shines through” she says. One chapter describes the women's visit to the hammam, or public baths. Spotlessly clean, the woman put on their burkas to return home. “The women's own smell is soon restored, The burka forces it down over them. The smell of old slave, young slave”.

Seierstad lets the voices of the slaves be heard. Her own curiosity and “urge to find out exactly what is happening” brings her to them. She sees, she questions and she tells their story. In doing so she makes their plight matter.

Since publishing the book, Seierstad has donated around 120 000 Euro (half of her profits from its sales) to three projects in Afghanistan. A girl's school is under construction, where 450 Afghani girls
will start their education this October. The second project is education of midwives; Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Her donation also supports the construction of village libraries, providing schoolbooks to the poorest children.

She is worried about the recent Taliban resurgence, resulting among other things in the burning of girls' schools. She sometimes feels it is almost impossible to make a difference, but says, “you cannot let them win. If we do not try to build schools, change women's lives, they have won. Now at least a few girls may have some choices, the chance of an education.”

After returning home from Afghanistan, Seierstad travelled to Baghdad where she lived for several months. She was the only Scandinavian reporter in the city during the American invasion. It was important for her to stay and describe how daily life was like for the people of the city. She wanted the rest of the world to know and to make up their own minds about what was going on.

Seierstad's skill as a true reporter is the hallmark of these Baghdad stories. She presents people and facts, and let them speak for themselves. How mothers try to protect their children from the sound of bombs. The prize of batteries. The dilemmas of ordinary Iraqis: glad to be rid of the despot, but humiliated by the western invasion of their country.

“If Bush and his coalition really wanted to understand what was important to ordinary Iraqis, I think many things would have been done differently. They should perhaps have tried to understand the importance of Arab pride, and read Arab history. Iraqis feel humiliated, and war inevitably creates a spiral of violence and hatred which feeds fundamentalism.”

Seierstad is concerned about the rise in Muslim fundamentalism. She believes war and destruction in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq has one thing in common: it has turned angry young men into dangerous fanatics.