A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Published in 2007.
Synopsis: This novel is the epic story of Mariam, an uneducated woman born out of wedlock in 1960s Afghanistan, and Laila, a well-educated woman from a progressive family born on the eve on the 1978 Communist takeover of Kabul. A Thousand Splendid Suns, set between the early 1970s and 2003, intertwines the lives of these different, yet ultimately connected women. All the while, Afghanistan transitions from monarchy to Communist control to Mujahideen takeover to Taliban regime to transitional government.
About the Author: Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-American author, who moved from Kabul to the United States in 1980. His first novel, The Kite Runner, was an international best seller. He currently lives in northern California and is also a U.S. envoy to the United Nations High Commission for Refugess (UNHCR).
My Initial Reactions to the Book
Where do I begin? There is so much substance in this novel to discuss. I haven’t read The Kite Runner (although I watched the movie), and I admit that I am no expert on the cultural history and politics of Afghanistan aside from what is portrayed on CNN and in an old 1986 encyclopedia article I read on Afghanistan during my geography-obsessed childhood.
There are 3 points I would like to make. (1) I was intrigued by the comment that Laila’s father made to her, that woman never had it so good as under the Communist control of Afghanistan. While both living as Rasheed’s wives, Mariam and Laila came from incredibly different educational backgrounds – one with no formal education, the other a star pupil with a previously-thought promising future. However, under the patriarchal/matricidal tyranny of the Taliban, their fates were the same and neither of them had much possibility of breaking free from their abusive lives.
(2) The constant war-torn nature of Afghanistan. I think that it’s also Laila’s father who comments on constant invasion of the country – from the Ghengis Khan-led Monguls over one thousand years ago to the Soviets, the British, the Americans. I also found it ironic that every time a new regime would take over Kabul in the book, Rasheed appeared delighted and seemingly forgot he was now condemning his heroes from several years ago.
(3) I think if one word could sum up this book, it would be Nana’s advice in the beginning “endure.” Mariam endured her mother’s suicide, father’s rejection and his selling her off to marriage at the age of 15. She endured the half-dozen miscarriages, the constant beatings from her husband. In the end, she died the hero, becoming a celebrity in prison during her last days as someone who stood up to her husband. She martyred herself so that Laila and her children could live. Laila also endured becoming an orphan, constant beatings from Rasheed, her perceived knowledge that her true love was dead, the separation from her daughter when she was forced to go to the orphanage. In the end she persevered, and the story had a happy ending. Her life mattered.
So what did you think of the book? Have you also read The Kite Runner, and are able to compare the 2 books? Perhaps you have more background on Afghanistan than I, and can comment on Hosseini’s protrayal its culture and political events. Were you disturbed by the violence and/or optimistic/pessimistic for Afghanistan’s future? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next up for Discussion: Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon. Discussion begins January 13th.