Many of us read fiction to escape. Well, sometimes escape is impossible when reading a gripping and compelling novel, and you can feel the pain and suffering of its characters, hurt for them and wish for them to be able to change a terrifying situation.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini is such a novel. His first work, “The Kite Runner,” was an international best seller (and is also highly recommended), and his second novel will most likely be just as successful in terms of books sold.
But it isn’t monetary good fortune making the novel so wonderful. This book brings out feelings so strong, true and powerful. It wrenches your heart as you read about the trauma of life in modern Afghanistan for the characters in the book and what they endure. By the poignant end of the book, I promise you will feel as if you have lived through what Mariam and Laila endured.
We first meet Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a rich man in a small Afghani town. Mariam and her mother are isolated by the stigma of their situation, but Mariam loves her father dearly. Eventually she decides, at 15 years of age, to walk to her father’s house and present herself to him and his “real” family. Upon her return home in humiliation and tears, events happen changing the course of her life forever.
Mariam is married off by her father to Rasheed, a man we will come to despise for his cruelty and insensitivity. Because she cannot give him a child, Rasheed turns on Mariam and makes her his servant rather than his wife.
Enter Laila, a young woman in Kabul who loves Tariq and finds herself pregnant by him, a life-threatening disaster in the culture in which they live. Laila winds up marrying Rasheed to give the child a “father,” and the rest of the novel illuminates the growing friendship between Mariam and Laila, allied against the brutality of Rasheed in a culture that allows men to abuse their wives even to the point of death.
Set against the historic background of Afghanistan during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, filled with names and places we have heard in the news here at home, this novel brings the political scene to life as we see how people we come to care about are impacted in horrifying and horrible ways.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is not for the faint of heart; if it tears you up to read of the misfortunes and vicissitudes of others, you will be in a heap at the end of the story. But if you love when a novel makes history come alive and shows you how human emotion is the same in every culture, then this is a “can’t put down” book for you.