This book has been sat on my bookshelf for so long that I am no longer entirely clear how it got there. All I know is that it has survived many purges of the bookshelves over the years with the premise that when I do read it, I’m sure it’s going to be good.
This book follows the lives of Mariam and Laila, two women in Kabul whose lives are irreversibly intertwined by events beyond their control. The book starts in the 1970’s with Mariam’s childhood outside of Herat as an illegitate child, taking her to Kabul the capital city of Afganistan.
Given the recent events, and the frequency with which I am reading about Afganistan, Kabul and the Taliban in the news, I decided that now was a pertinent time to take the plunge and read ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’.
If I had hoped that I would come out the other end of this book with an in-depth understanding of Afganistan politics then I was absolutely mistaken. While the political turmoil sets the scene for the story, the details are filtered through the understanding of characters who are receiving their information through neighbours, propaganda and television anouncements. Much of the news about the changing political climate comes to Mariam and Laila via their husband Rasheed, whose understanding of the situation is suggested to be meagre.
An understanding of the politics is not the point of this book though – however useful that might have been. This book really spells out to the reader what it was like to be a normal person living in Kabul when the rugs were pulled out from underneath your feet with each new ruling party and bombs were the new normal on the streets. Hosseini, who feld Afganistan with his family after the Russian invasion and returned as a representative for the UN refugee agency UNHCR focuses on the realities of the casual violence and oppression felt by those who were simply trying to live, surrounded by death. Neighbours, parents and friends – few people escape this tale unscathed by loss and it makes for a moving read which cannot fail to make you think.
Laila, who grew up under the rulings of the communist party and had dreams of going to the university, felt the changes hardest of the two women in the house. When the Taliban drive through the street announcing the new rules over loud speaker she cannot believe that they can be serious about the new laws.
“This isn’t some village. This is Kabul. Women here used to practise law and medicine; they held office in the government…”
“Spoken like the arrogant daughter of a poetry-reading university man that you are. How urbane, how Tajik of you…”
“I refuse to believe it…”
One thing that really sells a book to me is an author who can properly write about emotion – someone who can make you feel, cringe, gasp, shake and truly empathise with their characters is someone who I will happily read over and over again. Hosseini writes so beautifully and simply that one cannot help but truly feel for Mariam and Laila, as well as admire the strength of their affections for each other as the story progresses.
I found this book to be both eye-opening and heart-breaking. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the issues mentioned above, and am personally planning to find a copy of ‘The Kite Runner’ (Hosseini’s other book).