In The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad tries to answer the question: What kind of lives do Afghani men, women and children lead after the fall of the Taliban? She does this through a case study of one family. Economically, the Khans are not a typical Afghani family. The head, Sultan, owns bookstores in the country's capitol, and he is modestly wealthy. When the author, Asne Seierstad, first meets him, she is impressed by his seemingly liberal way of thinking, especially with respect to women. Seierstad thinks she might have struck a cultural anomaly in the male-dominated Afghan society and arranges to live with Sultan and his family to develop her story on life in Afghanistan.
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During her four month stay with the Khans, Seierstad interviewed dozens of family members, went on a religious pilgrimage, and attended weddings . Through her interviews and experiences, she found that her first impression of Sultan was somewhat incorrect. While Sultan generally supposed women's rights, capitolism and other social liberties in his conversations with outsiders, he still keeps a firm, patriarchial grip on his family. Despite being wealthier that most Afghanis, Sultan refuses to send his sons to school, and instead forces them to work at his bookstore. He marries a second wife and exiled his
first wife to Pakistan where she had to live alone and keep his second house. Sultan's ruling arm also extended over his youngest sister, Lelia, whom he keeps in his home as a servant.
Each chapter of The Bookseller of Kabul focuses on a different member of the Khan family or a different event in the family's collective life. Through these individual stories, Seierstad creates her collage of what it is like to be a man, woman or child in Kabul, Afghanistan.