Khaled Hosseini is one of my most favorite authors. So when, A Thousand Splendid Suns came along, I had to read it at the earliest possible opportunity. Very similar in tone and sensibilities as The Kite Runner, this is another heart touching and impressive novel.
The story begins with the introduction of Mariam, who is an illegitimate child and lives with her epileptic mother on the outskirts of Herat. In her sad life, the only source of joy are the weekly visits that she has from her father. She longs to abandon her home and live with her father in the city. However, due to an unfortunate turn of events, Mariam is compelled into a marriage with Rasheed, a man much older than her and is forced to settle down with him in the city of Kabul. Despite the trauma of having to live her life with a complete stranger who insists that Mariam wear burqas and hide in her room when visitors arrive, she is still hopeful of making her marriage work, especially after she becomes pregnant with his child. But as destiny has other plans, Mariam’s life becomes a living hell after a series of miscarriages and she becomes a complete prisoner in Rasheed’s home. From here, the story focuses on the life of Laila, a young and vibrant neighbor of Mariam. As Laila’s father deeply values education and empowerment of women, he brings up his daughter in a very liberal and modern manner with proper emphasis on education, ambition and opinions. In addition, Laila’s boyfriend, Tariq is also a very respectful and intelligent person who considers Laila as his equal and who enjoys going on various trips and cinemas with her. As the story progresses, Laila’s life is tragically torn apart when her entire family perishes in bombings that occurred in the country during the Soviet Union invasion. Orphaned and torn away from Tariq as well, she is forced to become the second wife of Rasheed. The growing atrocities of Rasheed and their mutual love for Laila’s children gradually unite the two women. From here the story evolves around the life of these two women and how they continue to strengthen and try to protect each other from the horrors that they are forced to endure on a daily basis. The result is a beautiful and poignant relationship that results between Mariam and Laila, just like that of a mother and daughter.
Written without excessive sentimentality, this book does not try to show the main characters as victims but as women who have immense strength and courage. It shows the indomitable spirit that women possess and the extent of sacrifice that they are willing to endure for the love and security of their family and friends. Dealing with common themes of human suffering, the immense struggle that women go through in order to live life according to their desires, the effects of war and nationhood, domestic violence and political forces that disrupt normal lives, this story is universal and are themes that can affect anyone in any part of the world. We as a nation may sometimes consider ourselves more advanced and developed than Afghanistan but the problem of inequality faced by women, natives and minorities plague almost every country. Sometimes it is so easy to judge other people and countries but in reality we are facing a similar kind of battle within our very own society. A Thousand Splendid Suns clearly demonstrates to us that unless all sections of our societies includingwomen are treated with respect and dignity, there is very little that can prevent us from breaking up into small minuscule warring units.
A book with a mind and a conscience, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a story of love which can heal brokenness and pain on one hand and on the other hand cause irreparable loss and damage. So while the love of her father and Tariq helped Laila to blossom and grow, the love between Mariam and her mother only ended in tragedy because it was so flawed and damaged. The role of parents in our society is also an underlying element in this book. Because Mariam’s mother was so broken, she ended up raising a broken daughter. On the other hand, Laila’s father instilled values of education and empowerment in his daughter, so she was able to grow into a confident and empowered person. When daughters are raised in an empowered and educated family, the result is nations that can grow and prosper. As it has been rightly pointed out by the author himself, “A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated…”
I highly recommend this book and the authors’ previous, The Kite Runner. Both these books will take you on journeys that will thrill, inspire and challenge you to open your hearts in so many genuine and heartfelt ways.
About Khaled Hosseini
Born in 1965, in Afghanistan, Khaled Hosseini is a prominent and well-known author. Currently, he has published three novels including A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Kite Runner, as well as And The Mountains Echoed. Released on May 22, 2007, A Thousand Splendid Suns received favorable pre-publication reviews from Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. During the first week after its release, the book sold over one million copies. In 2007, Columbia Pictures purchased the film rights for the book and has confirmed its intention to create a movie based on the novel.
In one of his interview, Khaled Hosseini revealed the inspiration behind the reason for writing a book centered on the women from Afghanistan. He said, “I had been entertaining the idea of writing a story of Afghan women for some time after I’d finished writing The Kite Runner. That first novel was a male-dominated story. All the major characters, except perhaps for Amir’s wife Soraya, were men. There was a whole facet of Afghan society which I hadn’t touched on in The Kite Runner, an entire landscape that I felt was fertile with story ideas…In the spring of 2003, I went to Kabul, and I recall seeing these burqa-clad women sitting at street corners, with four, five, six children, begging for change. I remember watching them walking in pairs up the street, trailed by their children in ragged clothes, and wondering how life had brought them to that point…I spoke to many of those women in Kabul. Their life stories were truly heartbreaking…When I began writing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I found myself thinking about those resilient women over and over. Though no one woman that I met in Kabul inspired either Laila or Mariam, their voices, faces, and their incredible stories of survival were always with me, and a good part of my inspiration for this novel came from their collective spirit.”
Currently, Hosseini is the Goodwill Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and has been providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.The concept for the foundation was inspired by the trip to Afghanistan that Hosseini made in 2007 with UNHCR. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Roya, and their two children (Harris and Farah)
Source: Goodreads and Google
- “Marriage can wait, education cannot.”
- “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
- “Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”
- “Behind every trial and sorrow that He makes us shoulder, God has a reason.”
- “A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed. It won’t stretch to make room for you.”
- “I will follow you to the ends of the world.”
- “Look at me, Mariam.’ Reluctantly, Mariam did. Nana said, ‘Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
- “She is the noor of my eyes and the sultan of my heart.”
- “Though there had been moments of beauty in it Mariam knew that life for most part had been unkind to her.But as she walked the final twenty paces,she could not help but wish for more of it. She wished she could see Laila again, wished to hear the clangor of her laugh, to sit with her once more for a pot of chai and leftover halwa under a starlit sky. She mourned that she would never see Aziza grow up, would not see the beautiful young woman that she would one day become, would not get to paint her hands with henna and toss noqul candy at her wedding. She would never play with Aziza’s children. She would have liked that very much , to be old and play with Aziza’s children.” Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace 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. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.”
- And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.”
- “She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.”
- “You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel.”
- “Mariam lay on the couch, hands tucked between her knees, watched the whirlpool of snow twisting and spinning outside the window. She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how people like us suffer, she’d said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.”
- I’m sorry,” Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.”
- “In the coming days and weeks, Laila would scramble frantically to commit it all to memory, what happened next. Like an art lover running out of a burning museum, she would grab whatever she could–a look, a whisper, a moan–to salvage from perishing to preserve. But time is the most unforgiving of fires, and she couldn’t, in the end, save it all.”
- “That summer, Titanic fever gripped Kabul. People smuggled pirated copies of the film from Pakistan- sometimes in their underwear. After curfew, everyone locked their doors, turned out the lights, turned down the volume, and reaped tears for Jack and Rose and the passengers of the doomed ship. If there was electrical power, Mariam, Laila, and the children watched it too. A dozen times or more, they unearthed the TV from behind the tool-shed, late at night, with the lights out and quilts pinned over the windows. At the Kabul River, vendors moved into the parched riverbed. Soon, from the river’s sunbaked hollows, it was possible to buy Titanic carpets, and Titanic cloth, from bolts arranged in wheelbarrows. There was Titanic deodorant, Titanic toothpaste, Titanic perfume, Titanic pakora, even Titanic burqas. A particularly persistent beggar began calling himself “Titanic Beggar.” “Titanic City” was born. It’s the song, they said. No, the sea. The luxury. The ship. It’s the sex, they whispered. Leo, said Aziza sheepishly. It’s all about Leo. “Everybody wants Jack,” Laila said to Mariam. “That’s what it is. Everybody wants Jack to rescue them from disaster. But there is no Jack. Jack is not coming back. Jack is dead.”
- “She wished she could visit Mariam’s grave, to sit with her awhile, leave a flower or two. But she sees now that it doesn’t matter. Mariam is never very far…. Mariam is in her own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.”
- “Tell your secret to the wind, but don’t blame it for telling the trees.”
- “… I have dreams of you too, Mariam jo. I miss you. I miss the sound of your voice, your laughter. I miss reading to you, and all those times we fished together. Do you remember all those times we fished together? You were a good daughter, Mariam jo, and I cannot ever think of you without feeling shame and regret. Regret… When it comes to you, Mariam jo, I have oceans of it. I regret that I did not see you the day you came to Herat. I regret that I did not open the door and take you in. I regret that I did not make you a daughter to me, that I let you live in that place for all those years. And for what? Fear of losing face? Of staining my so-called good name? How little those things matter to me now after all the loss, all the terrible things I have seen in this cursed war. But now, of course, it is too late. Perhaps that is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be undone. Now all I can do is say that you were a good daughter, Mariam jo, and that I never deserved you. Now all I can do is ask for your forgiveness. So forgive me, Mariam jo. Forgive me, forgive me. Forgive me…”