The biggest conceptual weakness of Seierstad’s book is that she does not seem to have understood the absolute centrality of the concepts of “hospitality” and “namos” (literally the “status, chastity, purity, virtuousness, and nobleness of the female members of the family”) to Afghan society. The idea that you could accept someone’s hospitality and then spy on them to violate their namos is completely shocking and makes a mockery of all her other claims of insight into the society in which she was living.
But is it necessarily a writer’s duty to cover all the complexities of every story?
Some may argue that freedom of artistic expression should be completely divorced from such political considerations. However, a writer who chooses to use a conflict as the background for their work cannot plead cultural immunity when real life intrudes on the result.
Plus: you can hear Asne Seierstad and Shah Muhammad Rais disuss the case on the Today Programme here