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 the 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 inextricable 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 or 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.
(Story synopsis from book jacket)
As I did when I read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, after finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I find that I’m asking myself, “How did I NOT read this book sooner?”A Thousand Splendid Suns has been sitting on my “To Read” book list for a very, very long time, but I somehow just found myself picking up a copy last week from the school’s library. I am no kicking myself for not having read this book sooner, but I am so very glad that I finally did.
Hosseini somehow has this magic ability in his writing to make his readers feel every possible emotion while reading one of his books. I found myself reading this book with a gut-clenching feeling through most of the novel. Even now, after having just finished reading it, I find myself at a loss without more from Mariam and Laila. Hosseini made Mariam and Laila so real through his writing, and I found myself begging these characters to give me more, to show me more of their lives. (Although to be honest, I’m not sure how this truly would have been accomplished – Hosseini had already given us everything there was.)
Mariam and Laila were two very different characters who, because of the effects of war and chance, find themselves thrown together in a house in Kabul. Most of the setting of the novel is in Kabul, but Hosseini is able to give the reader an accurate depiction of the events that were taking place throughout Afghanistan. Mariam and Laila had very different beginnings to their lives. Mariam was born a “love child,” a product of an affair between her father (a well-to-do businessman) and her mother (an employee of her father’s). It was because of this illicit beginning to Mariam’s life that expectations were not very high for her, and she was quickly married off to Rasheed at the age of 15.
Laila, however, was born to parents who were more “progressive” in the raising of their daughter, and emphasized the importance of her education. Laila was not spared knowing of information simply because she was girl. In fact her father said that the one thing the communists got right when they took over Afghanistan, was the equal education for all citizens.
However, the results of war changed the path that Laila was to take. Recovering from wounds sustained when a rocket hit her parents’ home, Laila finds herself in Mariam and Rasheed’s house. It is in this place that Laila soon is being courted by Rasheed himself, after he feels he has been disappointed by Mariam and her inability to provide him with children. Laila’s world soon takes an instant turn from everything that she has known. Rasheed enforces rules on his wives that when they are in public they must wear a burqa; they are not to leave the house without him; and they are to follow his every rule, and if they don’t there are consequences… In fact, Rasheed is very pleased with the Taliban free the country from the Mujahideen commanders; the Taliban enacted the same rules as Rasheed: Shari’a.
Through the story, we see how Mariam and Laila build a tenuous friendship through their shared experiences. Mariam and Laila are able build a life for themselves despite the trials and tribulations that they face. There are many instances of sacrifice, dignity and a will to survive no matter what.
While reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, these women became more than characters in a book; they were relatable people whose story would move any person reading it. It was amazing what these women were able to survive and overcome (in many cases). A Thousand Splendid Suns is a necessary read, not only for the historical perspective of what women had to face and endure in Afghanistan, but also for the terrific story of a woman’s endurance and the what she is willing to do for her family.