Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

thousand splended suns book cover"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.”

There is a reason that Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is garnering so much praise, and that is because it is a remarkable story. The book spans 30 years of Afghan history, beginning in the 1970’s with the Soviet invasion, through the successful Mujahideen resistance and the Afghan civil war, and ending with the rise and fall of the Taliban.

The story is about two women who are worlds apart in terms of social status, education and self-worth. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman who lives in isolation in a countryside shack with her bitter mother; Laila is the beautiful golden-haired daughter of a teacher who expects to marry her childhood sweetheart and continue her education. The chapters are titled with their names as their stories evolve and their lives fatefully intersect one day in Kabul when tragedy strikes Laila’s sheltered existence.

In their male-dominated society, various male friends, relatives and husbands figure greatly in Mariam and Laila’s lives. The men range from idealistic to protective to cruel. There is Tariq, Laila’s childhood friend and protector, who lost a leg to a landmine but kept his goodwill; and Laila’s father, a teacher before the communist invasion, whose main concerns are Laila's safety and education. Mariam’s husband Rasheed is a calculating, selfish man who gets great satisfaction enforcing Sharia law on his defeated wife, and who goes to great lengths to get a son to replace the one he lost.

Hosseini has written a story about an unlikely friendship. In a time and place when women have few rights and few ways out of their suffocating lives, one woman is brave enough for the greatest sacrifice. Hosseini has written a book filled with heartbreaking scenes you may not want to remember, but his Mariam is a woman you won’t easily forget.

Links:

The Official Khaled Hosseini Website

Read an excerpt from the novel about Mariam's first trip as a new bride to the city of Kabul

Hosseini discusses A Thousand Splendid Suns

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