Friday, October 05, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years - from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding - that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives - the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness - are inextricably from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love - a stunning accomplishment.

After the phenomenal success of Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner, there must have been a fair amount of pressure on the author to come up with another winner. Luckily, he succeeded! In fact, in my opinion, his second book is better than the first! Of course, now I am looking forward to his next book....already! No pressure! LOL!!

A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on two women. The first is Mariam. She is the illegitimate daughter of a successful businessman. Whilst she does get to spend time with her father, she is kept isolated from his real family. When her mother dies when Mariam is 15, she is married off to Rasheed, a man who is 25 years older than her and a widower. As the years pass by and Mariam fails to get pregnant, Rasheed becomes increasingly violent and hateful toward her. However, when after being married to Mariam for 18 years, Rasheed marries again, this time to the beautiful young Laila who is only 14 years of age, Mariam is determined to protect her status as first wife, and turns her bitterness and spite towards the young girl.

Laila, at 14, had grown up in the home of two academics, or at least her mother had been academic until she was forced to return to the home. Now, with her mother's attention constantly on the welfare of her two older brothers who are both soldiers of the jihad, Laila spends her days with her best friend Tariq. As the war intensifies, Tariq is forced to leave Afghanistan, and Laila behind. Shortly afterwards, Laila is orphaned, and she is taken in to Rasheed's home, and then is married to him despite the difference in age.

Laila becomes the favoured wife, and Mariam is forced to basically serve her, thus further fostering the bitterness between them, but the relationship finally begins to change when Laila gives birth to a baby boy - the pride and joy of Rasheed's life. A daughter follows, but by this time Rasheed has become increasingly violent towards both women. Hosseini is not afraid to show how violent and controlling Rasheed is, and it is a stark contrast to some of the more fairytale like elements of the end of the story.

The other image that has remained in my mind long after I put the book down, is that shown when Laila goes to the hospital to give birth. The doctor is supposed to remain in her burka during delivery and there are basically no drugs available. Whilst even in the modern world, childbirth is not 100% safe, the conditions described were completely scary to me!

The two women become each other's family, something that Mariam had long ago given up hope of ever having, and they become determined to escape from the maniacal Rasheed, only to be caught and punished. The re entrance of a person from the past into the lives of the little family, provides some hope, but to try to escape means that life will change forever for everyone involved.

Where Hosseini excels is that he manages to create such strong characters and situations between the characters and yet, still manages to provide the details that give the bigger picture of what is happening Afghanistan as a whole. We see Afghanistan under Russian rule, under Taliban rule, when the war lords take over Kabul and start fighting with each other, without ever losing hope that thing can get better, both for some of our characters, and for Afghanistan as a whole.

It is another fascinating read from an author who is definitely a must read.

Rating 4.5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

The Inside Cover

So Many Books, So Little Time
Hidden Side of a Leaf
Blue Archipelago


  1. It's well worth reading Zeek!

  2. What a great summary of this great book! I liked it better than The Kite Runner, which I liked a lot, although I read them in reverse order. Do you know if he's writing a third book?

  3. I have no idea, but I certainly hope so. I will read it!

  4. great review, marg! (i'm linking to you.) the hospital delivery scene was an evocative one for me too!