A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the second novel by the Afghan author Khaled Hosseini. It was published in 2007 after his best-selling debut novel, The Kite Runner. I would probably never had read this book except that my book group in the library had it as book of the month. That would have been my loss.
This book spans a period of over fifty years, from the 1960s to 2003,and focuses on the tumultuous lives and relationships of two Afghan women. Mariam is an illegitimate child, and suffers from both the stigma surrounding her birth along with the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. Laila, born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. Hosseini has remarked that he regards the novel as a “mother-daughter story” it focuses primarily on female characters and their roles in Afghan society. A Thousand Splendid Suns became a number one New York Times bestseller for fifteen weeks following its release.
The author was born in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 4, 1965. He is the oldest of five children. His father worked as a diplomat, and when Hosseini was 11 years old, the family moved to France. Four years later, they applied for asylum in America, where he later became a citizen. Hosseini did not return to Afghanistan until 2003 at the age of 38. He admitted he “felt like a tourist in his native country” and in interviews about the experience, he has admitted to sometimes feeling guilty for having been able to leave the country before the Soviet invasion and subsequent wars. He has been awarded the Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction for his work. The author now lives in Northern California, USA, with his wife, Roya, and their two children.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is an extraordinary, contemporary, social document that covers Afghan history from before the Soviet war until after the Taliban rule. The violence that ensued from this period was reflected in the violence towards women. To see in what low-esteem and contempt the average Afghan viewed women, especially the Taliban, quite shocked me. Women were worth nothing. This book had a profound effect on me. The author conveyed clearly life in Afghanistan throughout the book.
The book tells the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become indelibly linked because of three men: Jalil, Tariq and Rasheed. Mariam was the illegitimate daughter of Jalil, living with her mother Nana in an isolated hut outwith Herat. She really loves her father and decides that she wishes to live with him instead of her mother this results in Mariam being forced to become the wife of Rasheed in Kabul.
Laila is a good childhood friend of Tariq and they finally fall in love but Tariq leaves with his family for Pakistan. Laila is a great survivor, as is Mariam, and she also then becomes Rasheed’s wife. For the two women, life with Rasheed becomes a living hell. However, when Laila is recovering at Rasheed’s home after a bomb attack, Mariam sees a complete and utter change in her husband. Mariam and Laila are both humiliated by having to wear the burka. It makes them insignificant to the outside world as their husband is the only person allowed to look upon their faces.
The writing style is simple and there is much violence. However, the attention to detail is remarkable and this runs throughout the book so I fear the violence is realistic. I was intrigued by the title of this book. It originated from a 17th century poem written by Saib-e-Tabrizi and is quoted by Laila’s father Babi when the family had decided to leave Kabul.
I just absolutely loved this book. My elder daughter gave me my own copy for Christmas last year. What a wonderful gift. If you have not yet read A Thousand Splendid Suns, do so. If you have read it, read it again: you know you want to!