First, I have to contradict something that I wrote a few days ago. If you read my entry from this past Sunday, I commented on how sometimes it takes me a year to get through a single book due to problems with timing. That wasn’t the case with Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. I began reading this book about a week ago and I couldn’t put it down; I had the whole thing completed in about four days.
I had no idea what to expect coming into this book. A few years ago I read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and I enjoyed his writing style. So, based on being pleased with the other book, I picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns and let me tell you – this is one hell of a story! It’s the story of two women in Afghanistan and their struggles for respect and the ability to live a decent life in a country that is seemingly in a constant state of war. The novel is brilliantly written and is at times both heart-wrenching and brutal. At some point in the novel, the reader is actually pressed to expect the worst outcome for these women in any pending situation. Hosseini captures despair unlike any other writer that I’ve read in the last few years.
The story’s two main female characters are Mariam and Laila. The two women are separated by a number of years, but they wind up as wives to a hardcore man who beats and humiliates them. It’s tough to read at some points, but the quality of the writing makes it worth the intensity. Though these two are wives to the same man, their histories are anything but similar. Mariam grows up as the unwanted child of a wealthy man who conceived her with a servant woman. Being of such a history, Mariam is cast aside and literally lives in a hut until her mother passes away (the story kicks into high gear at this point, but I won’t spoil it for you). Mariam is then sent off to marry a man name Rasheed who requires her to follow a strict Islamic lifestyle, which includes wearing a burqa and being subservient to her husband.
Laila, on the other hand, grows up across the street from Mariam and Rasheed. Her father is a university professor before the Soviets begin to occupy the country. As a professor, he stresses the importance of Laila getting an education which ultimately brings Laila’s life full circle (you need to get to the end of the book to understand that piece of the story). Laila grows up with a young boy named Tariq. The two of them share a budding love story until the war gets so bad that Tariq’s family is forced to leave Kabul (which is where the bulk of the story takes place). From that point, the story take a variety of twists and turns.
After her family is killed, Laila winds up as Rasheed’s second wife. One of the most well written parts of the book is when Laila gets beaten for the first time by Rasheed. It really puts the reader in a position to hate Rasheed, which is where I found myself about midway through the book.
The rest of the story deals with Laila’s children, her desire to preserve what she had with Tariq, and Mariam wanting her life to mean something of importance (which it ultimately does). Of course, there’s a lot more to this story to fill its 415 pages and I encourage you to read the novel to get a full picture of this wonderfully written story.
In an Afterword, Hosseini asks his readers to look at the United Nations website regarding refugee services and support. Feel free to click on that link to see the website. And, if you’re looking for a startlingly powerful and brilliantly written read, then I suggest picking up A Thousand Splendid Suns.