A Thousand Splendid Suns was chosen at my book club recently and although I was excited at such a good pick, I came to the novel with a sense of trepidation as I adored Hosseini’s debut novel The Kite Runner. I wondered if it would live up to my high expectations.
Well, I needn’t have worried.
A Thousand Splendid Suns has been on my reading list for quite some time now, before I had ever read The Kite Runner. I have fond memories of the book as a friend was reading it a few years ago when a few of us went travelling around Thailand and Cambodia together. I can still remember how gripped she was by the story and how emotional she became during the course of the novel. I just knew I had to read this book. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally get around to actually reading it.
“Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.”
A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women in Afghanistan who have grown up in opposing circumstances. Mariam is an illegitimate child – a harami – a word we discover in the opening sentence and a word that will continue to be significant throughout the course of the novel.
“She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.”
Mariam grows up in a simple home and at fifteen she is forced to marry Rasheed, a significantly older man. It is nearly two decades later when her path crosses with Laila, a local teenager who has previously grown up in a more privileged lifestyle. Laila’s circumstances have led to her becoming Rasheed’s second wife, a source of consternation from Mariam.
Slowly the two female characters grow to forge a relationship that becomes as strong as mother and daughter. As they face the brutality unleashed by Rasheed, their lives are also left in fear when the Taliban take over.
This book proved a popular choice at book club and the general consensus was that although it was a harrowing read, the story was beautifully written and taught us all more than we could ever have known about such a world so far removed from our own free society. As I’ve discussed in my previous book review on The Year I Met You, a book that can teach us something is a joy to read.
The beauty of reading is that it can open us up to worlds that are outside of our realm and sometimes it can be the only way to raise awareness of issues, hence why many books have been banned in the past. Fear can be quite an instigator or motivator and perhaps it is the fear of an uprising in the past that led to certain books being banned from the public domain. This only serves to highlight the power of words and the impact they can make.
Hosseini wrote this novel as a reaction to the injustices towards women in Afghanistan. He himself was born in 1965 in Kabul before he and his family received political asylum in the United States in 1980. He is now a US goodwill envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency. His passion for human rights is reflected in the novel, which highlights the oppression of women in Afghanistan and the horrors they are forced to experience. Some of the scenes in the book are horrific but necessary to the story. Having only a mild knowledge of Afghanistan from various media outlets, it was surprising to see how varied the culture could be in one country. Kabul was a world full of female doctors and teachers, a huge contrast to rural Afghanistan where women played a much more subservient role.
The book was first published in 2007, yet it echoes resoundly in today’s current climate with the Syrian refugee crisis and the brutal force of I.S. It is a stark reminder not to ignore the plight of people who are suffering. It might be easy to bury our heads in the sand, but how can change be possible if nothing is done? Even the events in the book are still parallel today with many parts of Afghanistan as well as other parts of the world.
However, the book is not completely despondent. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there is a hint of hope at the end of the novel. While there is great sadness in the story, it is impossible not to be moved by the two female characters, particularly Mariam, a true heroine. The actions she and Laila take are motivated by love and emphasise the strength of the human spirit.
I could go on forever about how much I love this book. It explores so many themes, including love and loss, and deals with important issues. I strongly recommend you read this novel and also explore Hosseini’s other novels.
Is there a book that moved you? Have you read A Thousand Splendid Suns? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and if there’s any books you’d recommend. Get in touch!