A Thousand Splendid Sunsby Khaled Hosseini Published 22 May 2007
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At once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.
Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history, and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.
With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love—or even the memory of love—that is often the key to survival.
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" Reviews
For the last two months I have been putting off reading this book. For starters, I bought the book at an airport in Taiwan, which meant it didn't have a due date which meant it took a backseat to many books that I didn't have the luxury of reading whenever.
Additionally, because I've heard so much about this book already, I almost didn't want to read it at all. I've heard that it's depressing, that it's not as good as The Kite Runner, and that it's basically a novel about the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan.
You know when you read a book or see a film that has had great reviews and you finish feeling disappointed because it didn't live up to the hype? My experience reading this book was the complete opposite. I loved it. I didn't feel the message of the book was one of brutality or depression, but of hope and the toughness of the human spirit.
There are plenty of awful scenes to lend credence to its reputation. While the story's time frame spans thirty years, the main focus of the novel are two woman, a generation apart, whose lives cross as they become the wives of the same man, Rasheed. The elder, Mariam, was born to a servant woman out of wedlock and is raised in banishment, ignorance and eventual rejection during the years the Afghani government was controlled by the communists. She finds herself forced to marry a much older man after her mother commits suicide. Laila, fifteen years younger and raised by intellectual parents, enters the marriage under much different circumstances. Alone after a bomb destroys her home and kills her parents, and pregnant by her childhood love who has fled the country, she marries Rasheed in a desperate attempt to save her unborn child.
The writing engrossed me. Much like the Kite Runner, Hosseini magically puts the reader in the city, neighborhood and house of his characters. Much to his credit, I found myself torn between wanting to yell at Laila to hush up, so that she'd avoid another beating, and kicking Rasheed myself, because he is a despicable brute.
Mariam, one of the most tragic characters in literature, makes this book what it is; a story of love and strenghth. She, who didn't have an easy day in her life, allows herself to be touched by the love of Laila and her children. In return, she performs the ultimate act of love and saves a family.
I appreciate Hosseini's portrayal of a part of the world that is under so much scrutiny lately. Afghanistan, and the city of Kabul where the story takes place, have a long history of wars and occupations which result in a great chasm between different ethnic tribes, Islam, economic classes and gender. Hosseini uses this novel to tell the story of Afghani women and the hardships that face them with each regime change.
As a woman, I feel blessed to have been given confidence and opportunities. I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to live under the conditions the women in this book live under. I am grateful to be born to the family I was born to and in a country which allows me to live the kind of life I choose.
Miram and Laila didn't have the opportunities or support that I have. And yet they survived. They endured and they reached out to others, despite their circumstances. In this, Hosseini redeems all of Afghanistan by showing these two women's humanity. He shows that in a place whose beauty was written about in a 17th century poem, where "One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls" is a city that can become illuminated once again.
I was riding in a cab in Bombay recently, and a bookseller on foot approached me at a traffic light with a stack of books. I did my best not to look at the boy, but I couldn't help it. He was waving several books in my face and something caught my eye. I thought my glance was discreet, but he saw me look.. and it was game over. The light turned green right then and the boy starts running with the cab yelling 'Memsahib! Memsahib!'. We're picking up speed.. I'm so scared he's going to get his foot runover so I grab whatever I could from my wallet and somehow get it into his hands. In return he tosses a random book at me through the window as he's getting further & further away from the cab. I look to see what I ended up with. It was A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I was planning on buying anyways. The cab driver asked me how much I ended up giving the boy. 'A hundred and fifty rupees,' I said, which is barely $4. The cab driver says in return, 'You paid a hundred rupees too much!'. Hardly, I thought to myself. That boy worked his butt off. The best part is because the book is bootlegged it's full of typos and random fonts. Love it. In case I ever discuss the book with you and my recollection of the story is completely different from what you read, you'll know why.
Read the book on my way to Vietnam a few days ago. Loved it, although it was missing a few pages here and there :). Coincidentally, the friend I'm traveling with brought the same book on our trip so I had access to the missing pages. (And another coincidence - our Mekong Delta guide was carrying a copy of the Kite Runner. We were like some sort of Hosseini fanclub floating down the Mekong in our longboat...haha). I have a few thoughts on this book, I'll write them out in more detail soon. I'm heading back to Bombay in a few days...maybe I'll run into another bookseller on foot :).
To my editor:
Khaled here. As I was reviewing my final draft of “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” some questions occurred to me.
1. Could I make the characters any less complex? Despite my efforts, I feel I haven’t fully achieved the one-dimensionality my readers seemed to love in “The Kite Runner.” Specifically, I’m afraid I may have given Rassan one or two potentially sympathetic moments early on despite his overall abusive personality (although I more than make up for it). I don’t know whether my readers can handle that level of complexity. Fortunately, aside from that minor lapse with Rassan, I think I managed to keep my characters and their relationships pretty simplistic, although there’s always room for improvement in that regard!
2. Do you think I included enough graphic violent scenes, or should I add another ten or so?
3. Are my characters stereotypical enough?
4. Pretty clever the way I stuffed the facts of recent Afghani history into my characters’ dialogue whenever I could, don’tcha think?
5. Speaking of dialogue, I’m wondering whether I can inject a little more of my agenda into the characters’ conversation or introspection, or maybe structure the plot around it a little more. Any ideas?
6. Isn’t it great that Afghanistan is such a hot topic that mediocre writers like me can make a buck by pandering to people’s intellectual pretensions?
With hopes for another bestseller,
It was a warm, sunny day in Montenegro and I was about to set out on a boat trip. I felt certain that a combination of sightseeing and the people I was with would keep me from having much time to read, but I packed a book anyway just in case there was time for a chapter or two in between stops. A Thousand Splendid Suns happened to be that book. And at the end of the day, when I staggered off that boat, blinking at my sudden exposure to reality, it wasn't because I'd been mesmerised by the stunning architecture and history lessons, no, it was because Hosseini stomped all over my heart and had me tearing through pages like a madwoman. I'm not even sure how I found enough hours in the day to take a boat trip around Montenegro and read this entire novel, but somehow I finished this in the few hours I had... simply because I had to.
My initial reaction was a furious, teary promise to myself that I would have to give this book five stars - I think it's impossible for the mind to win a battle with the heart in that level of heat, especially when you're used to English weather. But afterwards, I managed to reclaim some of my sense and sanity, which is when I finally began to acknowledge this book's limitations. For one thing, I think it's extremely generous to place this book in the "literary fiction" category when I'm not so sure it belongs there. Please be aware, I am not complaining and I am certainly not a book snob, give me a delicious page-turner over some pretentious waffle any day. But I find myself comparing A Thousand Splendid Suns to another book about a country, culture and history I was only vaguely familiar with - The Poisonwood Bible - a book which I also read on my trip. The latter is a far more complex, ambitious work that brings something which, to me, felt entirely fresh and original. Hosseini's story, on the other hand, is not groundbreaking and I recognise many of the scenes and characters from other books - The Color Purple is the one which first came to mind.
What it is though, or was at least for me, is incredibly emotional, sad, uplifting, infuriating and memorable. It's lessons on the history of Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban might be basic but they are nothing if not compelling. I came away feeling like I learned something, which it is always a pleasure to say. What I did learn was truly horrifying, it painted details into the very vague images I already had in my mind that I had got from various British newspapers. But I also really liked the affection for his birth country that shines through Hosseini's story, his faith in the ultimate goodness of these people who witnessed society and order crumbling around them.
The ultimate tragedy of this story, for me, is how everything could have been very different for Mariam and Laila if people had just acted a little faster, stopped worrying about their pride a little earlier, and trusted a little more. I really liked the range of emotions both women experienced and they way the author showed this. I know some readers thought it was wrong for Mariam to be jealous of Laila at first, that her jealousy didn't make sense, but I actually really liked that complex level of emotion that goes beyond what we would expect. Rasheed may be a bastard but he was the only thing in the world that she had at that point and on some level it made sense to me that she would want to claim him for herself.
While I believe Mariam and Laila experienced complex emotions and were well-developed, Rasheed did not get the same treatment - a fact which I'm torn about. On the one hand, I think Rasheed would have been a better character with greater development beyond him being the most villainous villain of all villaindom. On the other hand, I think Rasheed's evil personality offers an important distinction between him and Jalil (and the other men), one which is needed in a book that looks at the cruelties women suffer at the hands of men. The difference between Rasheed and Jalil is important, the latter is a man who acts badly because his behaviour is shaped by the society he lives in and, because of that, he lets Mariam down when she needs him most. Rasheed, on the other hand, is a mean and violent brute who completely abuses the power handed to him as a man in this society. These differences between Rasheed, Jalil and the other men (Tariq, Laila's dad, etc.) show there is not one type of man in this society, that wife-beating is not simply a part of the culture, that even in a patriarchal society you can choose what type of man you want to be.
I admit this is far from a perfect book, but it is a good book. It's a book that seems to swallow you whole but spit you back out in pieces. And, just to mention, I keep intending to read The Kite Runner again because I think studying it at school ruined it for me, but so far, I much prefer A Thousand Splendid Suns.
This novel is about two wonderful, brave , intelligent and resolute women Mariam and Laila, their optimistic dreams, aspirations, boundless love... yet dehumanized, in perilous, merciless, Afghanistan... continually suffering degradation, during the tumultuous years, in the long, sad history , of that troubled, war ravished nation, Mariam, born out of wedlock, in Herat, to a wealthy man, lecherous Jalil, and Nana, she was a maid at his house, he had already three wives, and soon ten other children, sent to an isolated hovel , by a tiny village , near the city, to live out of sight, the embarrassment, with her mother. The occasional visits by him were the highlight of Mariam's young life, a devoted daughter, with an uncaring father, bitter Nana's endless recriminations, against him, made for an appalling situation. At 15, the girl can no longer remain, and flees to Jalil, who she loves above everyone, nevertheless , he refuses to see, taken back... an awful tragedy, materializes .. Married off to a shoemaker, in Kabul, the capital, a big man, almost thirty years older, Rasheed, with a propensity to put women in their place, his wife must dress properly, outside, walk behind, talk to him only when asked, a virtual slave in the home, her main duty is to give him sons...but her numerous pregnancies, do not go to fruition. The ignorant , hypercritical husband, is always angry, beatings and scoldings become common....Laila, background is very different, than Mariam, from another generation, born and raised in Kabul, the bright student, to loving parents, the father a former teacher, bookish, timid and small, dismissed by the communist government, an emotional, domineering mother, with bouts of ennui...depression, stays in bed , many a day , her two sons joined the Mujahideen, but were killed by the Soviet invaders. The war comes to the capital, after the Russians leave, warlords struggle for power, starvation widespread, horrendous crimes, committed in the open, shelling obliterated much of the city and the people, thousands perished ...including Laila's parents, in the future, her teenage boyfriend Tariq, two years older, escapes with his family to safety, in Pakistan , she refused to leave her father and mother, still alive then...Soon alone, in trouble, Laila has to marry Rasheed...his wife , Mariam , had nursed the wounded Laila, in their home. It will be like before, the evil commences ... the aging Rasheed's, punching, kicking, slapping, verbal abuse, to both his wives , they are cognizant of their lowly status... only the son, Zalmai, is adored by him, his "daughter,"Aziza, hated. ..An outstanding book, about two remarkable women, who endure...they will fight back... someday.
Suns is part historical fiction, part social commentary and part kick-in-the-throat storytelling. A friend of mine said that Suns is a metaphor for Afghanistan but I found it illustrative of Afghanistan's weary and violent history; I found it brutally educational. When I had studied in Germany in 1987, I lived in an international dormitory. I asked my neighbor, Hyder, where he was from, he leaned in to me with a devilish grin and hissed “Afghanistan!” While others found this amusing, the effect was completely lost on me; I had no perspective at the time and was completely clueless of both international and domestic politics.
Although not as gripping and revelatory as Kit Runner, this novel certainly packs punches that will knock the literary wind out of you. Khaled tells us the story of two women and their struggles for life in a society that thinks they should not live. What I find ironic about such societies is the obvious struggle between valuing women as life givers while depleting their worth because they are not men. What I love about Suns is that Khaled does not once point out the obvious sociopolitical conundrums of these ridiculous and ill-founded attitudes. Khaled tells these women's story and leaves the reader to wince, tear up and sigh; one time I had to catch my breath.
I really enjoy Mr. Housseini’s transportive narrative and I was entirely engulfed in the lives of his characters. Of late, I often take the train with my new commuting-buddy Maria and her 2 year old daughter Vivian. One morning as I sat next to Maria, Vivian began to relieve a peanut butter english muffin sandwich of it’s contents. I took out Suns and began reading while Vivian took to her task with muted satisfaction. I closed the book. I just could not process the grim and dire passage I had begun reading the night before with the delighted consumption of the eviscerated contents of homemade love.