Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
Published 2007

It has been too long since I last picked up a book that I could not put down.  This is one of those books.  I finished it in three days and even read it in the middle of the night.  

 A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, is contemporary historical fiction set in Afghanistan, from the 1970s through the early 2000s.  It connects the lives of two completely different women, born a generation apart, and spotlights the vacillating conditions of the Afghan women who bear the brunt of the ever-changing political and military powers of the region.  

Afghan women during the 1970s

The title, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is taken from a 17-century Persian poet who described the beauty of Afghanistan; but the author uses it here as a general reference to the Afghan women, and more specifically, of the close relationship between the two main characters.  This book is a love story about Afghanistan - a love for its landscape, its culture, its history, and most importantly, the Afghan women who do what they must to survive under the country's cruel and unjust laws. The people may love their country, but continuous warfare and abuses of power have made life immensely difficult.  

"I'm sorry," Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief.  And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.  Laila thinks of her own life and all that has happened to her, and she is astonished that she too has survived, that she is alive and sitting in this taxi listening to this man's story.
The language and writing style are light and flowing, but the context is heavy and taxing on the heart. The end of each chapter begs you to continue to the next.  Even the end of the story demanded more - I mean I did not want it to end.  The characters are familiar and real, though some be disdainful and despicable while others are true heroines.  

Try to imagine living within a society that does not permit women to work, get an education, or be in public without a male escort!!  This affects all the benefits that come with being free: deciding who and when to marry, being treated as an equal partner in marriage, and having a fair trial in a court of law

"A society has no chance at success
if its women are uneducated, Laila."

After reading The Dressmaker of Khair Khan by Gayle Lemmon, I found many historical similarities in this book, as both stories are set in the same time period.  They both describe life during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban, and the bombing by the U.S. after September 11th.  Both books also mention the Afghan people's infatuation with the film Titanic, which was outlawed for many years while the Taliban were in power.

It slays Laila.  It slays her that the warlords have been allowed back to Kabul.  That her parents' murderers live in posh homes with walled gardens, that they have been appointed minister of this and deputy minister of that, that they ride with impunity in shiny, bulletproof SUVs through neighborhoods that they demolished.  It slays her.
This is such a good story - I sense Hosseini's urgency and longing to tell it, and it is my impression that this is the kind of writer he is.  I am eager to read his other two books ASAP.  (However, a bookseller told me to wait between books; let me digest awhile.  I will try.)

So, obviously, there are no spoilers in this post, and I am just going to leave this here because it is the end of the year, and time is short.  I just wanted to say: I read this, and it did not disappoint.  If you read it in 2017, be prepared to be shocked and stunned, affected, enraged, and maybe even cry.    


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful review! I have put off reading this for entirely too long. It is available from my library, and I am trying to utilize that more, so hopefully I will make room for reading it soon.

Ruth said...

I didn't think I would enjoy contemporary lit, but this is one I do appreciate. It's really popular, so I hope to read more reviews about it from other readers.

Stephen said...

I'm intrigued by an Afghan obsession with Titanic. I've read Hosseini before and he's haunting -- "For you, a thousand times over!" -- so I definitely want to read more of him.

Gently Mad said...

This sounds like a good book to read. I'm shocked by the first photo you show of Afghanistan in the seventies. I had no idea that they had progressed so far and have fallen so backwards.

It reminds me of photos friends of mine from Iran showed me. It was the same there. In the seventies. Iran was very westernized but after Khomeini rose to power they were plunged into the dark ages.

Ruth said...

Me, too.

Ruth said...

It was intriguing - one of those stories that won't leave you.

The West was certainly influential before the communists invaded. It is disheartening how much oppression they have endured since the Taliban came to power - and I think they lost some power after US invasion; but when the US pulled back, the Taliban gained more power again.