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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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Publish date: 2003
ISBN: 1593082010

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Pride and Prejudice, or First Impressions, was first published in 1813 simply “by a lady”.  It is the story of two sisters, the one prefers to view the world through optimism, while the second with sarcasm and pleasure with her own wit and views.  While the first sister, Jane, learns by the end of the book that evil can and does exist in people, and that people can be vicious and cruel all the while wearing a pleasant face and friendly voice.  The second sister, Elizabeth, learns that all is not as it seems on the first impressions, and judgement should be reserved until more facts have come to light.

In Pride and Prejudicewe see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s family of five girls and no sons,  whose estate must fall to a male heir,  deal with concerns for their future.  Mr. Bennet prefers retreat to his study and occasionally regret not having saved for his family’s future after his death.  He is permissive of his youngest daughters’ wild and flirtatious behaviour chasing after soldiers.  He continually berates his younger three daughters in deference to the older two “sensible” daughters.  Mrs. Bennet chooses to contrive opportunities for her daughters to be alone with a potential suitor, such as sending her daughter out in the rain so she can catch a cold and be forced to stay at the suitor’s home.  She shows wanton favoritism of her silly, ill-behaved youngest daughters, making a fateful choice to send her to Brighton where the daughter makes a socially reprehensible choice that threatens to ruin the family all together.

The lesson learned in Pride and Prejudice is that appearances are not often what they seem.  Mr. Bingley’s sisters seem friendly and doting to Jane, but it is all an act, as their true feelings are that of superiority and disdain.  Mr. Wickham is attractive, affable, and pleasant, but in truth is a wicked womanizer who runs out on his debts and responsibilities.  Mr. Darcy seems cold, snobbish, proud and ill-mannered, but this is really how his shyness and fear of meeting new people, as well as his choice not to reveal the truth of his past with Wickham in order to defend Wickham’s maligning him.

I have read Pride and Prejudice before, and rereading it reminded me how much fun and funny it was.  Many of the tete a tetes between different characters are delightful: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s interactions, Elizabeth and Darcy’s verbal volleys, and best of all, Lady Catherine’s demand the Elizabeth NOT to accept a proposal from Darcy is met with the latter’s socially inexcusable refusal which leaves the Lady sputtering and hissing disdain for the entire Bennet family.

I have found that the first time I read this book, I was definately Elizabeth.  Now, about 15 years later, I am still Elizabeth Bennet.  I tend to jump to judgements, though not as quickly as before.  I am a fierce defender of my family, more now than before.  I have a sarcastic wit that I enjoy in myself, which is richer with the experiences of life and a better understanding of people.  I love and respect those who champion integrity and help the loved ones of the one one loves.  I am, however tempered with a little Jane: I do choose to believe people good until they prove themselves otherwise.

Like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice could be modernized and be just as true and socially relative as in 1813.  Parents still desire for their grown children to be successful and  happily married to a good person.  Children still die of embarrassment when out in public with their parents.  And the fiercest enemies of happiness is our own friends and family.