ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at a high school in Kabul. In March 2001, while practicing medicine, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, which was published by Riverhead Books in 2003. That debut went on to become the launchpad for one of the biggest literary careers of our time. Today, Khaled Hosseini is one of the most recognized bestselling authors around the world. His books, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed, have been published in over seventy countries and have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
In this book, Hosseini paints a picture of Afghanistan from the 1960s to 1990s, tracing major historic events such as the Soviet occupation and Taliban control in parallel with the married lives of two women in the war-torn country.
Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.
The novel is in the form of a binary narrative, starting with a nine-year-old Miriam, living in the outskirts of Herat with her strict mother and anxiously waiting for her wealthy father’s weekly visits. She faces reproach and prejudice for being an illegitimate child, not only from her father’s family but from her mother as well. Soon after her mother’s suicide, Miriam, still aged just fifteen, is forced to marry a guy years older than her.
Rasheed is a brutish, grumpy and old-fashioned man, who turns to domestic violence as Miriam fails to yield a child. Despite this, Hosseini makes us feel sympathy and pity for him, for his past is no less sorrowful than Miriam’s.
The second narrative is of Laila, an innocent teenager in love with her neighbor. Her family is torn to shreds by the war, which first steals away her brother and then her mother. Ostracized and orphaned, she agrees to marry Rasheed. The story of these two wives is inspiring and proves to be a pillar of strength and love in desperate times.
Hosseini continuously weaves information about Afghanistan’s situation into the story, while also making sure that it never becomes the driving force of the plot. The story moves along with the two women trying to somehow keep the wheels of life in motion, enduring, struggling, and looking high and low for joy in times of gloom, with one’s innocence concealing a secret and the other becoming increasingly resentful about her life.
The author does not seem entirely comfortable writing about the inner lives of women and often resorts to stock phrases. At the same time, with the exception of Laila’s absent lover, the male characters seem either unrelentingly evil or pathetically weak. A woman portraying male characters in this way would have probably been labelled and dismissed as a man-hater. Though fascinating, the historical background — the Soviet invasion, the Mujahedeen and the internecine tribal warfare — isn’t always well integrated into the plot. Furthermore, some readers may find the transitions between Mariam’s and Laila’s perspectives a little too bumpy.
The writing style, however, is brutal, beautiful and has a sense of realness to it, in a way that it helps in connecting with the characters, which are memorable and delineated to perfection. The love story presented in the plot is also both sad and splendid. The story is so gripping that one has to keep reading just to make sure that things turn out to be good, which is – SPOILER ALERT! – not always the case.
The book presents a vivid, heart-rending story of an unforgiving era, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love – all of which make for a stunning accomplishment par excellence. It delves into the personal depths of the unjust and cruel treatment meted out to women, the agony and discrimination suffered by the weaker sex, and the abuse and violence that they are often forced to endure silently. Multiple taboos, biases and stereotypes are highlighted throughout the book. Several messages are delivered, like how patriarchy has assumed monstrous proportions over time, how Taliban has had a life-altering impact on millions of people, and most importantly, how the indomitable will of an individual is the strongest power he/she can ever hope to muster.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is not a light read by any stretch of imagination. It is extremely gut-wrenching from start to finish. From the trauma of abuse to the horrors of war, this book does not leave any dark part of the human heart untouched and unexplored. Vociferously demanding a rating of 4.3 out of a possible 5, this is a highly recommended, life-changing read.
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