Presenting the second edition to my 2015 Reading Challenge: “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. I’m proud to say it’s been a pretty quick turnaround from my last but first book challenge post covering A Book with More Than 500 Pages. I can only say I hope this momentum continues as I try to tackle 48 more books within this year. There are many similarities between this book and the one from my previous post “The Book Thief.” Both take place in foreign countries, both center around leading female character(s) and both are slightly depressing. However, for “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” the word “depressing” is putting it lightly. Without giving too much away, I can only say that as the title implies, there is a light of hope and happiness for the ending of this tale. While it takes a little time before the real gut of the book is reached, I did read though a good chunk by staying up until 3 a.m. one night simply because I desperately wanted to know how this story was going to conclude. As a “#1 New York Times Bestseller” I can say this one book your sure to let lost in. So without further ado, here’s my take on “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”
As described above, this book takes place in Afghanistan across the span of about three decades, covering a significantly violent past of the country’s history — from the invasion of the Soviets to the ruling of the Taliban and most significantly the enormous amount of Afghan refugees. Amidst all of this historical background, the story focuses on two female characters whose lives become intertwined in the most unexpected and tragic of ways. First, there’s Mariam, a child born out of wedlock between the wealthiest man in town and a former lowly maid. Mariam and her mother, Nana, live in a small shack just outside of town and is visited by her father, Jalil, from time to time. As we find out early on, Nana detests Jalil for his casting out of her while Mariam naïvely adores him for his caring ways. It doesn’t take long though for those relationships to be tested, leading to unexpected outcomes. Then there’s Laila, the daughter of a more modern and scholarly city family, whose activities include going to school and building a close friendship with a boy named Tariq. For reasons I’ll be vague about, the lives of Mariam and Laila become intertwined in an emotional tale of the power of love and friendship between two unlikely heroines.
Much of what Hosseini focuses on throughout the entire novel is the oppression of women in Afghanistan during that time. As said by Mariam’s mother in the first few pages of the book “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” She later says there is only one skill a woman must learn, and that is to endure. This theme carries itself through the entire book, using the intimate story of two women to explain the unjust world Afghan woman and many others had and still have to endure every day. When the Taliban take control, laws are set in place forbidding women to leave their homes without a male escort and demanding they wrap their faces in burqas. They must not speak unless spoken to or look a man in the eye. They cannot work, attend school or even laugh in public. The punishment for disobeying these laws: a severe beating. Trust me when I say this book is nothing short of severe beatings these women are forced to go through. Any laws for the men you ask? Just for boys to wear a turban and men to grow out their beards. We’ve all heard in history or culture classes about these customers, but reading this book certainly makes it more eye opening and personal to see it from a woman’s perspective. However fictional it may be, I have no doubt in the utter truth of the unjust lives of these women.
In analyzing the relationship between Mariam and Laila, Hosseini also does a superb job of connecting these two women who come from entirely different backgrounds. While Mariam eventually feels unwanted by her father, so too does Laila feel secondary when it comes to the love her mother has for her brothers. Mariam and Laila also share another thread between their mothers in that both seem to suffer from some form of mental illness. While Nana describes it as a jinn, or evil spirit, entering her body and causing her to convulse, Laila’s Mammy’s comes from depression in seeing her boys off to war and her country’s way of life collapsing. But despite coming from these somewhat unhappy families, both women show extreme strength of mind, body and spirit in hopeless and tragic situation after situation. Which brings me to my final thought, the meaning behind this book title. Taken from an old poem, it reads:
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs; Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Laila’s father reads it to her as a remembrance of times past, when their city was at its height and before the world around them turned to rubble. But despite that devastation, hope still remains and it’s strength lies in the women who had to endure and survive after years of “hiding behind their walls.”
With page after page of plot twists and surprise endings, this book will have you on the edge of your seat (or up until the early hours of the morning) until the very end. Despite the sheer amount of tragedy contained throughout the novel, it’s a testament to the courage women of this time kept in the face of oppression and war. Thanks for reading and comment below with a guess at what book you think will be in this next category: “A book that came out the year you were born.”
Find a copy of this book for yourself here: http://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Splendid-Suns-Khaled-Hosseini/dp/159448385X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422821584&sr=8-1&keywords=a+thousand+splendid+suns
Image credits: http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/best-2013/story/book-review-small-goodnesses-spite-hardship-20130611, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/5603070/Nicolas-Sarkozy-burqa-not-welcome-in-France.html, https://anditravels.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/book-reviews-a-thousand-splendid-suns/