Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
The story follows the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, who become caught up in the repression and misogyny of conservative Islamic culture.
Events span the decades from the rule of Afghan kings, the Soviet invasion, the civil war of the Mujahideen warlords, the takeover of the Taliban and the eventual liberation by Allied forces.
It gives compelling details about the tragic struggles and sacrifices of the two principal characters as they try to survive through anarchy and extremism in what would become a brutalizing culture.
The first to-do item on my literary list this year was to work my way through the entire Khaled Hosseini library. Luckily for me, that is comprised of only two books at this point. The Kite Runner, which was released earlier this year as a motion picture, and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
I'll try steer away from comparing the two books here. They're both very good reads and worth your time. But I will say that I consider Suns to be the better of the two.
The author's narrative style is stronger and less predictable and he stretches himself, very effectively, to look at the events of the last 35 years in Afghanistan from a woman's point of view.
Hosseini does an excellent job of referencing the global and regional political issues in the story without making them a main plot point. The large events are a backdrop, a scene setting device that serves as a canvass for the personal tribulations the main characters endure.
In doing this, the he avoids being overtly preachy and opinionated. The result is a narrative that keeps it's focus on the subjects of the story, while exposing the reader to the cultural and moral pitfalls of Afghanistan during this time frame and, more generally, of any authoritarian society.
The story itself gives me new respect for the struggle of the Afghan people, particularly the women, and what they have endured over the past four decades. One point the story makes is that nobody in Afghanistan has escaped loss -- loss of family members, loss of friends, loss of limbs, loss of dignity and loss of life.
After the first few chapters I was already wondering if life would ever get better for the women involved. And it didn't. It gets worse and worse for most of the book. This is another reason I respect Hosseini as a writer. He doesn't sugarcoat anything.
The lives of the main characters get progressively worse throughout the book and this is can be emotionally trying for the reader. But as with The Kite Runner, while you can't say that there is a happy ending, there is at least a hopeful ending.
Rating: Highly recommended
tagged: books, literature, Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Kite Runner, Taliban, extremist