A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Title:  A Thouensand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Riverhead Books (the Penguin Group)
Publish Date: 2007
ISBN: 9781594489501

…it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant people that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last… This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.

The second novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is both complimentary and contrasting to The Kite Runner. The first novel, masculine and brutal, while the second feminine with the underlining current of endurance and sacrifice. Both books are about Kabul, Afghanistan, where Hosseini is from, and both books are tales of survival. While The Kite Runner is a book about a family who left Afghanistan after the soviet invasion and takeover, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about a family who stayed in Kabul throughout nearly all the almost thirty years of the city’s turbulence and war. Both have messages of love and sacrifice.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is an emotional story of two women, Mariam and Laila, who are married to a violent and malicious man. Their husband, Rasheed, reminded me of a concept I had read in Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight: Evil people are always evil, and when they are given the approval to be cruel they will do so with great relish. Rasheed had been a wicked, controlling violent man before the Taliban, but with the absolute freedom of men to do whatever they want to their female family members, Rasheed’s true abusive nature becomes his unabashed identity. He can do whatever, whenever, he wants to the women, and no police will save them because it’s a family matter, no court would believe them because he’s a man and they are women, a class of people who are “only slightly less contemptable than a communist.”

…you’ll learn nothing of value in those schools. There is only one… skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school… Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure.

This book is a beautiful story of a deep love and companionship of two women, of their ability to endure beyond their imaginations, of survival, and of the ultimate sacrifice love can make: The laying down of one’s life for another. It is the story of redemption and reunion, Mariam’s illegitimate and loveless life being redeem by the love Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai give her and the reunion of the star-crossed lovers.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a visceral account of life in a war zone, the horror, the sounds and the bodies. It is beautiful at times with poetic passages and loving moments between characters, while revealing the life of oppression women were forced to endure during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. It is haunting, depressing, joyful, and hopeful.

… like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her.

For me, whenever the events were stamped with the date, winter of 1993, Summer of 1994, Fall of 1999, etc, I thought of what was going on in my life at the same time, birth of my daughters in clean hospitals, having water that poured from my tap, using an indoor flushing toilet and bathroom with a shower. Not to mention I could walk my kids to the park and not worry about them getting killed by sniper fire and taking it for granted my daughter wouldn’t be raped by soldiers passing by. Never once fearing we’d take a trip out of town and returned to find our house now the possession of the government.

Because this book is graphic and shows the reality of war and domestic violence, this book is not for people who are sensitive to such things. There are several passages that will rip your heart out, and several that makes your stomach sink with dread and worry for Mariam and Laila. I am sure there are people who find the story too depressing to finish.

I didn’t think it was possible that I could like this better than The Kite Runner, but I do. The focus on the women, their struggles, their endurance, their support of one another, and their ability to dream and hope for escape and freedom despite all they go through is humbling and encouraging. I feel a sense of kinship to them, a sense of shared suffering and not giving up, fighting back in the face of hopeless odds. It has a softer and steadier voice than The Kite Runner, as if told by a female narrator instead of a man. It is an incredible journey of forgiveness and redemption.

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