A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

I’ve read a few online reviews suggesting that A Thousand Splendid Suns is not as good as Hosseini’s masterpiece first novel, The Kite Runner. With all due respect to the writers of those reviews, they are so, so very wrong. At least from my perspective. I thought this novel was, if anything, better and more compelling than The Kite Runner. From the moment I picked it up, I was completely drawn in to the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, who start out from very different places in life but end up drawn together in ways that are seem impossible and yet inevitable.

The huge canvas upon which this intimate story is painted is Afghanistan over the last 30 years — a country in an almost constant state of war, with alliances and allegiances constantly shifting. The same characters who cheer the departure of the Soviet occupying force and welcome the Taliban as liberators, find themselves almost immediately afterwards crushed by the harsh realities of Taliban rule. There are no heroes and no good guys except for the ordinary people trying to survive in a world of chaos — particularly the two women at the centre of this novel.

Earlier this year I read a good memoir about a woman growing up in Afghanistan under Soviet rule (Nelofer Pazira’s A Bed of Red Flowers). That was interesting and informative, but contrasting it to A Thousand Splendid Suns really underlines what fiction can do that non-fiction can’t. The true story of a woman’s experience, written by that woman herself, should be the most powerful and compelling way to draw the reader into an experience. A work of fiction, written by an Afghan male who left the country in 1980 and wasn’t even around for most of the events he describes, shouldn’t be able to provide such an overwhelming, emotionally engaging glimpse into women’s experience in that place and time. But Khaled Hosseini does it.

The book is sad — horrifying in places — but also hopeful and inspiring. When I read Pazira’s memoir, I felt I knew a lot more about Afghanistan. When I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns, I felt I had briefly visited Afghanistan, made friends there, and wept for the friends I’d lost to thirty years of war. To make people who we know only as “strangers,” “foreigners,” or even “the enemy” into neighbours; to change “them” into “us” — there’s nothing more powerful that a beautifully written work of fiction can do.

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3 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- general

3 responses to “A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

  1. Thanks for this review. I am currently half-way through The Kite Runner and used the exact example you give in this review last week when talking to a group of communication students about writing. I told them that the power of fiction is that suddenly I “know” a family in Kabul and that can speak truth in a way a week of lessons in history, religion and politics can’t.

  2. So so heart-breaking story.I cant get my mind off Mariam Jo.She is the one who actually shows how to be grateful for everyllittle thing,every litte love that comes our way.How a woman has the potential to survive so many adversities that life brings upon.I cried the entire night for Mariam Jo, thinking why only she has to face everything.The letter by her father-Ah!! Such a lovely gem.
    Wars only bring destruction. One can never find peace but it seems it brings a lesson for those who have everything but values nothing to realize the importance of little things when war snatches everything from them.The world ought to be content.Wars,destruction,arrogance,would never bring anything.
    Apart from all these things,a woman is always taken for granted.The patriarchy, dominant nature of man still revolves and it exists so badly.I cant even imagine the life the women over there in Kabul might be enduring.
    Rules of Islam, Allah would have never differentiated between His pupils.It is always humans who have drawn the line between man and woman in the name of Allah.
    Ah! Its truly said a book has the power to let us live more than one character and I developed Mariam within me.She is a hero to me.I just love her, love her like anything, I couldnt get my eyes,get my mind off her.She is just great.

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