In Asne Seierstad's book The Bookseller of Kabul, the author gives us an idea on how people of Kabul live their lives. In this book there are times where they talk about the changing hands between...

In Asne Seierstad's book The Bookseller of Kabul, the author gives us an idea on how people of Kabul live their lives. In this book there are times where they talk about the changing hands between governments (Ex: Mujahedeen to Soviet Union) and battles. My question is can you give me a summary of the history and events (War, changes in rulers, etc.) that occurred that this book is talking about? 

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the forward to her nonfiction account of her time in Afghanistan following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, journalist Asne Seierstad lived with a native bookseller and his family, which included his two wives (allowable under Islamic law and culture), and his children. That account, The Bookseller of Kabul, would not have been complete, the author recognized, without the historical and social context in which the events she described took place. That context was summarized well by the bookseller himself, whom Seierstad quoted as observing, "First, the Communists burned my books, then the Mujahedeen looted and pillaged, finally, the Taliban burned them all over again." That sentence, by itself, suggests the scale of the history and the enormous and devastating social transformations that occurred in Afghanistan over the course of many years.

Afghanistan, as with many nation-states, is complex, comprised of numerous ethnicities, religions, languages, and political affiliations. As important, it has endured centuries of colonialism at the hands of European empires, including those of Britain and Russia. The latter, of course, is particularly relevant to the present discussion, as the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, and the subsequent ten-year occupation, destroyed much of what had been admirable about that region. The ensuing war between the Soviet Army and the mujahedeen insurgents armed and trained by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others, left behind total devastation, with a desperately poor population left to pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild. Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States, witnessing the end of the Cold War and the geopolitical framework in which that war had played out, left the region, choosing not to remain and help with reconstruction. The power vacuum left behind, and the violent factionalism that emerged, dealt further physical and emotional destruction to the country. A protracted civil war broke out in which former allies became enemies and the bombing of the capital, Kabul, became a daily occurrence. Into that vacuum came the Taliban movement, supported heavily by the intelligence service of neighboring Pakistan, which hoped to increase its own influence in Afghanistan.

The rise of the Taliban movement was little understood at the time, but what was known was that it was both pacifying a previously war-torn country, and imposing a previously unimaginable form of Islamic law upon a country formerly pious yet considerably more moderate in its interpretation of its dominant religion. The Taliban sought to forge a region reflective of the Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet Muhammad -- a vision that eschewed all vestiges of modernity and the prohibition on all forms of entertainment, including the playing of music and the flying of kites, the latter a particularly popular activity there. The Taliban also, however, sheltered Usama bin Laden and the terrorist movement he founded and led, al Qaeda (The Base). Al Qaeda's attacks on the United States, especially the attacks of September 11, 2001, which destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and which badly damaged the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, prompted the U.S. invasion in October 2001. It was during that invasion that Seierstad entered Afghanistan alongside the Tajik and Uzbek tribes from the northern region of the country (hence, "the Northern Alliance"), and took her place with the family of the titular bookseller. What followed, then, was the author's observations of the latest transformation taking place in a country that had endured so much chaos and violence for so many years. The perspective of the bookseller, given a pseudonym in the book, provided a unique glimpse into daily life in Kabul as well as a socioeconomic and cultural examination of the general population's way of life. What Seierstad saw was both encouraging and discouraging, the latter referring to her depiction of the bookseller's family life -- a life reflective of the region's ancient culture.

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