Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 4

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

Four years after the explosive debut of his first novel, Khaled Hosseini returns with a second stunner in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Over the course of several decades, A Thousand Splendid Suns follows two women through war-ravaged Afghanistan as they struggle to keep their families together. Mariam, born in 1969, lives quietly in an isolated kolba outside of Herat with her stern, cynical mother, dreaming of life in the city with her more lively father. All that changes after a disastrous attempt to connect with her father that leaves her alone but for her new husband in the busy city of Kabul. Four years later on the day of the Saur Revolution, Laila is born to an educated, modern couple a few doors down from Mariam’s dark world. At fourteen, Laila has only just realized the love she has for her longtime best friend, but the increasing danger causes Tariq to flee to Pakistan. When Laila is orphaned by a missile, Rasheed proposes to Laila, who accepts once she realizes that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child. Years pass and times grow harder, and the sister wives develop a strong bond, deepened by their shared love of the now two children in the house. The political turmoil of the era worsens Rasheed’s brutal discipline tactics, and the two women endure beatings almost daily at the hands of their husband or the Taliban that now walk the street. Only when Mariam strikes Rasheed dead with a shovel, out of fear for Laila’s life, are the women freed from their shackles. In order to ensure Laila’s safety, Mariam turns herself in for murder and is executed, allowing Laila to reunite with Tariq and live in peace as a family.

Filled to the brim with Hosseini’s opinions on political strife, civilian casualties, and sexual inequality, this story has the clear intent of spreading the author’s ideology, thinly veiled by the narratives of Mariam and Laila. As such, the themes of death and gender roles pervade every page. Through the death of Mariam’s unborn children — all seven of them — and her resulting depression, we see how tightly a woman’s worth and her ability to have children are entwined. Likewise, Rasheed’s increasing frustration and disaffection over these losses demonstrate how a man’s place in society is dependent on whether or not he can produce a male heir. Because Mariam cannot provide this for him, Rasheed resorts to displaying his power by beating his wife.

Hosseini’s aim is made all the more apparent by his diction. Unlike many modern and historical literary classics, A Thousand Splendid Suns is very easily understood. He uses small words and unambiguous figures of speech in order to attract the average reader. Because of this, it often feels as though he is telling the reader what is happening rather than showing it. For example, many times throughout the book the audience is enlightened to the current political situation through either radio discourse or character dialogue, a method which is both easily done and readily received. By targeting those who prefer to obtain information without confusion, such as many Western adults for whom reading is an activity not often partaken in, Hosseini ensures that his credibility remains unquestioned. After all, if the audience hardly has the time to read the story, it’s not likely they’ll analyze its contents.

However, because Hosseini was educated in America, his perspective is not so different from the average Western reader. Therefore despite his clear disapproval of the subordination of women, he lacks the authority to disparage the ancient tradition. It is consequently essential that the audience remember this as they read so that they do not believe his opinion blindly.

Nevertheless, all but the most apathetic readers cannot help but sympathize with Laila and Mariam throughout their tragic lives. The heartbreak and suffering that they endure is enough to cause anyone to shut down, but they push forward, and for that they earn the admiration of the audience. The women seem to shine as beacons for all those who are facing hardships; they show that through love, for family, friends, and oneself, the pain is bearable. As Mariam walks the stage to meet her death with her head held high, as Laila drifts through the abandoned kolba in remembrance, I know I am not the only whose eyes filled with tears.

Though A Thousand Splendid Suns is a rather simplistic read that must be taken with a grain of salt, its themes of love, of death, and of rebirth create strong ties between the audience and the characters. This highly emotional book brings reading back to its essence: the desire to share, and to connect.

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