I had heard many rave reviews on Hosseini’s first novel The Kite Runner and came across his second, A Thousand Splendid Suns, with one goal in my mind: I wanted to have a real cry. One of those books that truly move you, pulling on your heartstrings until you bawl like a child.
The main plot seemed to fill my criteria. Set in Afghanistan from the 1960s to the 1990s, spanning from Soviet occupation to the Taliban control, following the lives of two women in their marriages and in their war-torn country. Expecting domestic abuse, graphic war descriptions and a main theme of oppression in Afghan women, I was satisfied- yes, I will weep.
And so shall you but not for the reasons you would expect. A Thousand Splendid Suns covers much more than the aforementioned.
The novel is split in a dual narrative, the first being Mariam when she is nine, living on the outskirts of Herat with her bitter mother, anxiously in wait for the once-a-week visits from her wealthy father. Branded a harami, an illegitimate child, Mariam faces many prejudices and blame not only from the family of her father, but also from her own mother. Hosseini introduces a naïve child whom you immediately pity, and also feel a foreboding clutch the pages. Not soon into the story, Mariam discovers the emptiness in her father’s love and after her mother’s suicide, is forced to marry a man more than 20 years her senior, her being only 15.
You blink several times. You squirm. You cry out in outrage. But Hosseini isn’t finished.
Rasheed is a kind man, albeit rather archaic in his manner and grumpy, but all things considered Mariam’s life does not seem so terrible anymore. Until the miscarriage. And then the continual miscarriages.
Domestic abuse? Yup, I knew there must be some somewhere.
However, Hosseini does something new. You pity the husband, for his past is one with sorrow much like Mariam’s- it does not justify his actions- but you feel sympathy for his situation.
Then comes the second narrative- Laila. An innocent young child with a best friend who is a boy, a family torn by the war that steals her brothers away from her and in turn her mother’s affection. Orphaned, torn from her love, Laila agrees to marry Rasheed. The stories of these two wives will make you gaze in awe at the sheer strength of love in desperate times.
All the way through the novel Hosseini weaves in information about Afghanistan’s situation nevertheless it is only here that it takes a role in the story. Yet he makes sure that it is never a driving force in the novel- that is for the voices of these two women. Both trying to make do, muddling through life trying to find joy through the gloom, one innocent yet hiding a terrible secret and another bitter with age and resenting her life. Both still with a glimmer of hope in their eyes as they embark on a great journey.
Hosseini’s writing is simple, and that is all it needs to be, a welcoming contrast to Mariam and Laila’s complex situations.
By the end you are not only left with a tear, but with a fire lit within. It is above all a story of hope and of life, the heroism that comes with love and the inevitable strife that comes with living. Inspirational, outstanding, every man and women must read this tale.