A Thousand Splendid Suns By Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was published in 2003, instantly becoming a bestselling novel. This beautifully written, powerful and intense tale of two young boys in Afghanistan, and later, their lives as men, is an unforgettable book. When an author's second novel is published after such a spectacular first novel, the expectations are high, and there is some trepidation and anxiety for the reader.
Will the second novel disappoint? In the case of Khaled Hosseini, his second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, published this week is not a disappointment at all.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of Mariam and Laila – two women whose lives become one, and separate again. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a single mother – her father, although loving, has more than one wife, and several other children. After the death of her mother, a marriage is arranged for Mariam to a much older man – and Mariam, at the age of 15, has no choice but to accept. She moves from the countryside to Kabul.
Forced to stay home
Laila is younger, the daughter of educated and more affluent parents. Mariam is forced to wear the burqua by her husband and seldom leaves her home, while Laila plays in the street with her friends, attends school and visits the cinema.
When the Soviet years - 1979-1989, come to an end peace still does not come to what is, now, known as the Islamic State of Afghanistan – there are simply different people fighting. Peaceful citizens, including children, are killed in the streets by rocket fire. Many people flee the country - most to Pakistan, others to Europe, England, United States and Canada.
At this time Khaled Hosseini, himself, born in Kabul, moved to the United States. Just as Laila's family attempts to leave, their home is destroyed by a bomb – and Laila's parents are killed. Laila is taken in by Mariam and her husband Rasheed. Mariam has not been able to have children and Rasheed hopes that a second wife, the lovely young Laila, may bear him the son he so desires. This is not a happy household.
Life in Kabul is not a good thing at this time - and the arrival of the Taliban in the fall of 1996 does not bring improvement. It is believed that the Taliban will bring peace, but it is soon evident that they are to be feared. Public beatings and hangings begin for all who oppose their laws.
Flyers are printed outlining the laws of the now Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the lives of women, especially, are now controlled by the Taliban - they are not allowed to leave their homes, no cosmetics, jewelry or "charming" clothes - women are not allowed to speak unless spoken to, no eye contact with men, they are not allowed to laugh in public - no education, no employment. Cinemas close, books are burned, paintings destroyed. As I read this, I thought - no matter how awful it is there now, this must have been worse. The hospitals become for men only - the single hospital in Kabul for the treatment of women is a filthy place, without medication and anesthetic. The life of the lone female doctor in this facility is hard to believe - but Khaled Hosseini is a doctor himself - now practicing in California and I am sure he knows exactly what he is writing about.
As the novel reaches its climax Laila is twenty five years old - the same age as my son who although an adult, seems so young. In comparison to this young woman, Laila, who has lived a life beyond her years - a life so desperate I do not know how she has survived. She seems very old in experience and hardship.
This is such a tough book to read - and I don’t want to give away the details of the lives of Laila and Mariam - the story is very plot driven and the reader is desperate to know what becomes of these women. It is an intense and horrifying tale - this is a book where the true magic of a writer is evident, as he truly brings these characters to life - they were living, breathing women to this reader. I was completely captivated by this book - and came away not only satisfied that I'd read another brilliant book from this compelling writer - but also with a greater understanding of the recent history of Afghanistan and the lives of it's people. I am certain that this book will become the best selling novel of the summer of 2007 here at Parry Sound Books - and around the world.