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Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

on January 24, 2012

I just finished listening to A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.  I travel a fair bit, so this year I’ve really gotten into books on tape.

I have to say I really enjoyed this book, and am a little disappointed I couldn’t physically read it because there were some really beautiful moments and poignant words I would have liked to focus more on.  Given time constraints though, I’m definitely glad I at least got to listen to the book.  That being said, listening to the story added to its richness.  The speaker used proper pronunciation, and this added a level of authenticity I would not have experienced reading the book on my own.

I read Kite Runner a few years ago, and remember it being devastating, enthralling, and educating.  A Thousand Splendid Suns didn’t disappoint, but was thankfully slightly less devastating and had more emotional depth.

The story centers around two Afghani women over a 30 year time period, from the mid 1970s through the mid 2000s.  This period was immensely turbulent for Afghanistan, and I’m embarrassed to admit my lack of knowledge about this country before September 11, but the book thankfully and gently guides the reader through history.

The first character, Mariam, is introduced as a young girl.  She is a “harami,” or the bastard child of a wealthy business man, Jalil.  Mariam’s mother was a servant in Jalil’s home, and when he gets her pregnant, she is banished to the outskirts of town to live in a “kolba,” (what seems to be a tiny hut) outside of town.  Mariam lives with her mother, and Jalil visits once a week.

Mariam idolizes her father and believes he is perfect, and that her mother is wrong about any nasty things said about him.  I won’t spoil the plot, but it turns out her mother was right.  Jalil cares more about his name and reputation than his family, and Mariam pays the price.

Just after turning 15, Mariam is married off to Rasheed, a despicable human being by my account.  He’s 30 years her senior, and takes her to live with him in Kabul.  After many failed pregnancies, Mariam settles into a life of infinite abuse, both emotional and physical, and begins to believe she is as worthless as her title, harami, implies.

The book then turns to Laila.  A young neighborhood girl who could not be more different than Mariam.  She is raised by progressive parents, her father is a teacher and her mother refuses to wear a burqa.  Laila is a beauty, and is also the top student in her class.  She is a curious and adventurous young girl.  At this time, the country is ruled by the Soviets.  Despite the occupation, the time is conveyed as one of relative freedom and prosperity for Afghan women.  Laila is in school, and expects to go to University, and she is taught by female teachers.  Women do not have to cover themselves in public, and are able to vote and work.

When Laila is around 14, fighting breaks out between the Soviets and the Taliban.  The Mujahedin seeks to regain control of Afghanistan, and restore Sharia law…meaning women are screwed.  Anyway, everyone in Laila’s life is wretched from her in violent ways, and she winds up being taken in by Rasheed.

She becomes Rasheed’s second wife, and soon gives birth to a little girl, Aziza.  Laila loves Aziza, who brings her endless joy.  Rasheed eventually begins beating Laila as well, but Laila and Mariam form an unexpected friendship, and the rest of the book details the progression of this relationship.

Mariam becomes like a mother and sister to Laila.  Watching over her, helping her care for Aziza and later, a son, Zalmai.  Eventually, Rasheed is…”defeated” (trying not to ruin anything!)…and Mariam makes the ultimate sacrafice for Laila.

The ending chapters of A Thousand Splendid Suns, are beautifully written, eloquently conveyed and emotionally satisfying.  Finally, at the end of Mariam’s life, she feels complete.  She is loved, and has loved back.  She was able to become a mother, though not through birth.  Her legacy lives on with Laila and Aziza, a legacy of strong women who can overcome any adversity.

A few days have passed since I finished the book, and I am more and more touched by the story and the strength of the characters, against unimaginable odds.  The educational aspect of the book is also quite unique.  The story conveys so much history, so much depth, without feeling didactic.  Through the characters, many points of view are espoused.  Strict Islam, Taliban and Mujahedin support, communism and Marxism, the rise of the war lords, the War with the US, and the history of the country itself.  (One of my favorite moments was between Rasheed and Mariam, when she is asking why Marxism is so bad.  He calls her stupid, says everyone knows communism is evil, duh.  Then she asks who Marx is.  It’s quite clear he has no clue, and does not know the basis of his fury, and shrugs her off without answer.  This scene conveys the endless turbulence in Afghanistan, the rise and fall of many regimes, and the senseless nature of it all in a funny and light manner).

I also enjoyed the depiction of the geography and topography of the land.  It seems quite beautiful and rich, only magnifying the tragedies which have repeatedly befallen the nation.  I’ll stop here, I’ve already rambled on quite a bit, but I would highly recommend this book!

Happy Reading 🙂


7 responses to “Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

  1. Conor says:

    People still read?? Or listen? jk. I’m glad you liked this book. I didn’t read it but I read its predecessor (like you did). It’s pretty astounding how oppressive these cultures can be toward women. I believe since they (the men) are constantly second-class citizens in their own country via foreign occupation, they kick the next rung down the ladder. Appalling, but unfortunately not entirely surprising. Hopefully at some point Afghanistan will be returned to the Afghan people. While there will be many potential setbacks (Taliban/Sharia rule), ultimately freedom will prevail on a long enough time frame. Remember, the USA had MANY issues (and continues to) during its formation and maturation…it’s unfair to ask for patience, but I believe it is the best case scenario for their people and for any people. Freedom takes time.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A thoughtful and descriptive review, and it occurs to me that I must read it… thank you for your insight and recommendation.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully written review…I think it does justice to the beautiful book that A Thousand Splendid Suns was and the impact it has made on my life.
    I completely sympathise with you on having to “listen ” to the book instead of reading it…as reading it makes a completely different impact on you and gives a totally different feel altogether.Im lucky to have gotten to read it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I just finished reading One Thousand Splendid Suns and I love your review. My favorite part of the book was watching Laila and Mariam develop their friendship. I guess I sympathize most with Laila because I’m closest to her age. In reality I knew almost nothing about Afghanistan or the Taliban before I read this book. Again, love your review/blog.

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