What are some quotes with meaning from The Bookseller of Kabul?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Meaningful quotes in The Bookseller of Kabul capture the pain of living in an Afghanistan whose identity is stripped as a result of those in the position of power.

Some of the best quotes from Asne Seierstad's work speak to how the Taliban embraced the wholesale suppression of human rights.  The Taliban embodied a system where individuals did not experience freedom.  The Taliban were insistent on ensuring that citizens remain loyal only to it as a ruling force. Complete obedience dictated that individual bonds towards other citizens were suspended: “What the sounds and smells do not divulge, gossip supplies. It spreads like wildfire in the neighborhood, where everyone is watching one another's morals.”  Seierstad's idea of a world where "gossip" replaced freedom of thought reflects the destructive nature of the Taliban. The quote is meaningful in suggesting how people live in a world of Taliban control.  Rights and trust are replaced with suspicion and mistrust.

Seierstad's work also illuminates how war has transformed Afghan life.  From the Soviets to the Taliban to the coalition forces, war has defined it for decades.  This is reflected in how students learn such basics as reading or mathematics:

War was a central theme in maths books too. School books - because the Taliban printed books solely for boys - did not calculate in apples and cakes, but in bullets and kalasnikovs. Something like this: 'Little Omar has a kalasnikov with three magazines. There are twenty bullets in each magazine. He uses two thirds of the bullets and kills sixty infidels does he kill with each bullet?” 

This quote shows the full extent of how war's impact.  It infiltrates the most banal aspects of existence like mathematics lessons.  This quote also shows how education is restricted to masculine domains.  The fact that "Little Omar" is highlighted in the math problem and that the curriculum is developed "solely for boys" proves how gender inequality is a part of life in Afghanistan. This is an essential idea in the work.

In consolidating their power, the Taliban embraced brutality. Seierstad displays this in writing about how they destroyed museum artifacts:

A few enormous sculptures of Afghan kinds and princes were still standing, and thousand year- old Buddha statues and murals.  The foot soldiers when to work, exhibiting the same spirit as when they had devastated Sultan's bookshop.  The museum guards cried when they Taliban started chopping away at what remained of the art.

This quote shows the absolute savagery of the Taliban.  It shows the cruelty in fundamentalism.  The tears of the museum guards lingers, as they are helpless to stop the cruelty of those in the position of power.  While cultural relativism is something that regimes like the Taliban manipulate to their own benefit, the museum guards' tears become a stinging indictment of what the Taliban represents and how they achieve their ends.

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