A Thousand Splendid Suns


Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is a story of two women and their lives in Afghanistan over the past 30 years spanning such tumultous events as the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan, the years of Mujahideen resistance, and the rise and fall of the Taliban.

Mariam is an illegitimate child who is forced to marry Rasheed, an abusive husband at age 15. Rasheed is an ugly, cruel man who breaks Mariam’s spirit time and again. Laila is an attractive girl who lives just up the street. She is born to educated, liberal parents and enjoys the freedoms Mariam is restricted from. She has a boyfriend, but their plans to marry get derailed when he has to leave the country and move to Pakistan as a refugee. Although he offers to marry Laila and take her with him, she opts to stay back with her parents who need her.

During the wars of the 1980’s and 1990’s, a rocket destroys Laila’s home and family. Finding herself alone and pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, she decides to accept Rasheed’s offer of marriage and becomes his second wife. The story then deals with how Mariam and Laila form an almost impossible friendship, and how they support each other through all their travails.

My Review

This book does a wonderful job of giving glimpses and insight into the daily life in Afghanistan through the eyes of two very different women who become friends and allies.

I was very apprehensive to pick up this book. I hadn’t much liked “The Kite Runner”, and all that I read about this book made me feel it would be a tear-jerker, overly emotional kind of novel. The sort I normally try to avoid.

Anyway, I did eventually read it, and I must admit that I loved this one so much better than The Kite Runner. I really loved the 2 main characters. They are not spineless at all, but each show maturity and strength in the midst of unimaginable hardships. The ending of the book is superb, redemptive, and hopeful.

Khaled Hosseini paints a stark picture of what it means to be a woman in a culture where they are valued only for how well they keep a house, and how many sons they produce. A culture where they are subject to the whims of men. Those that value them as worthwhile human beings are welcome oases – they seem to be the exceptions in their world, rather than the norm.

To my surprise, there were also some subtle humorous passages in the book.

There is a hilarious aside in the book about a painter who is forced to draw pants on his paintings of flamingos to hide their nudity. I also loved reading about how people worked around the Taliban ban on TVs by burying it in the garden during raids.

What horrified me in the novel was the actuality of how rubbish daily life really was under the Taliban regime – no TV, no cinema, no books (apart from Islamic religious texts), no kite flying, full burqas, no cosmetic use, women could not travel without a man to escort them. What on earth did people do for recreation? I mean all the simple pleasures of life were taken away.

I am not even looking at this from a gender perspective. Life would have been hellish for men too, I am sure.

There are some nice bits of Islamic poetry and songs scattered through the novel, which I loved.

I will be posting a longer poem in a separate post, but I thought I would end this review with an excerpt from this shorter, very lovely ghazal that was included in this book, and which epitomizes its very spirit. This ghazal is by someone called Hafez:

Joseph shall return to Canaan, grieve not,
Hovels shall turn to rose garden, grieve not,
If a flood should arrive to drown all that’s alive,
Noah is your guide in the typhoon’s eye, grieve not.

In short, this book is every bit as splendid as the title suggests. Go read!

If you live in India and wish to purchase this book, head on over to shoppingwish.in to find the best deals.

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  • I also liked this one better than Kite Runner. I’m on a waitlist for his third, but I’m somewhere around 130 on the list. It will be a while πŸ™‚

    • @shelleybookclutter: I liked this book better too. Maybe it’s just that I could understand the two women’s plight better than that boy in Kite Runner.

  • Zoeb

    Dear Nishita
    I think that your review of this book is simple yet effective and well-rounded. It gives us a perfect glimpse in every aspect and it tells us eventually how you feel about the book. It is a piece of great writing.
    As for the novel. I cannot express my heartfelt feelings for it. While ‘The Kite Runner’ was a great novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is more than that- it is like a poem that breaks your heart and yet encourages you to forge on ahead. Khaled Hosseini’s descriptions of a country ravaged to a greater extent by its narrow-minded, chauvinistic attitudes as well as the constant wars are beautifully contrasted with a gripping story of two women trying to survive it all. There are moments of doomed yet passionate romance, moments of light humor, shocking violence and moments that make you cry. Every character is portrayed perfectly and even Rashid, the bitter husband, is not nailed as a stereotype. This book has something for everyone.
    Keep It up Nishita

    • @Zoeb: You put it far better than I ever could. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you completely πŸ™‚

  • This book is indeed a reading pleasure, I remember how I react and burst into emotion, specially the sacrifice of Mariam for Laila, thanks!

  • Great review.
    I enjoyed the story even though it was so depressing to read. I’ve heard only good things about his other novel, The Kite Runner, but haven’t read it yet. Maybe sometime in the future.

    • @Delia: Thanks for visiting and commenting. I have read both these books, and my personal favorite was A Thousand Splendid Suns…somehow Kite Runner fell a little bit flat for me.

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  • Both “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and “The Kite Runner” are worth reading. Great touching books. Thanks for this review!

  • I really enjoyed this book too. I loved the strength of the women even when they faced the horrors that were imposed on them. I read it a while ago, but it still sticks with me.

  • Thanks a lot, Nishita. Have been waiting for this book review. Been hearing about it but was not very sure, until this review.

    Will pick it up as soon as I chance to see it next.

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