Bibliophilia: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I have read countless books but this one here is my first ever book review. I hope this helps you make decisions about the all-important reading list.

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin Books)
Publication History:  
Riverhead Hardcover Edition - May 2007
Riverhead Mass-market International Edition - May 2008
(Beware! This may contain spoilers)

From late 1960s to early 2000s, in war-torn Afghanistan. In Gul Daman in Herat then to Deh-Mazang in Kabul. There are also some parts that are set in Pakistan. The story spans the occupation of the Soviet Union, to the time of the Mujahideen, to the rule of the Taliban, and to the events that lead to the 9/11 bombings.

This heartbreaking novel tells of the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives converged amidst and because of their beleaguered country.

The story begins with the childhood of Mariam, her being a harami - an illegitimate child, her unstable Nana (mother), and her complicated relationship with her father. She and her mother lived in a kolba outside of Gul Daman, away from her father's real family. On Mariam's fifteenth birthday, she decided that she would watch a film in her father's cinema in Herat. She is stood up and ends up walking to her father's house, only to be ignored and shooed away. When she is sent back to the kolba, Mariam found that her mother had committed suicide. She is then, very briefly, taken to her father's house before she is sent away to marry Rasheed, a sour-tempered shoe shop owner from Deh-Mazang.

The story then shifts to the birth of Laila, her childhood, her relationship with a one-legged boy named Tariq, how she dealt with her mother's extreme mood swings eversince her older brothers joined the jihad, and the unforgiving circumstances after her parents' death.

Sometime when the Mujahideens were tearing each others' throats, Laila's parents are killed by a missile and Rasheed takes her in, eventually marrying her. Soon after, a stranger comes to bring ill news about Tariq - he had died in a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Laila and Mariam's relationship was of enmity at first, but when they have found common ground - it was when Laila defended Mariam against Rasheed's beatings - theirs turned into friendship, of understanding, of maternal love.

As the Taliban takes Kabul, the situation inside Rasheed's household became more turbulent as well. Laila gives birth to Aziza, a daughter, and then to a son, Zalmai

And this is the part that I will stop. I do not want to rob you of the hours of fun, heartache, sorrow, compassion, empathy, and a whole range of other emotions from this gem of a novel.

Memorable Quotes
"Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman."
- Mariam's Nana

"A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you."
- Mariam's Nana

"People, she believed, shouldn't be allowed to have new children if they'd already given away all their love to their old ones." 
- Laila, on her mother Fariba

"...Of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting."
- Laila, on waiting for Tariq to return
"Boys... treated friendship the way they treated the sun: its existence undisputed; its radiance best enjoyed, not beheld directly."
- Laila, on Tariq's reaction to her saying she missed him

"They had overshadowed her in life. They would obliterate her in death."
- Laila, on her brothers' death
"You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you just have to see and feel."
- Laila's father Hakim

"She had this laugh. I swear it's why I married her, Laila, for that laugh. It bulldozed you. You stood no chance against it."
- Laila's father Hakim on his wife Fariba

"She didn't understand that if she looked into a mirror, she would find the one unfailing conviction of his life looking back at her."
- Laila, on her father's love for her mother

"Tell your secrets to the wind, but don't blame it for telling the trees."
- Laila, quoting Khalil Gibran

"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."
- excerpt, from the translated poem "Kabul" by Saib-e-Tabrizi 
(This is where the title came from, I assume)

"I guess some people can't be dead enough."
- Rasheed on Tariq
"Love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion."
- Mariam
"This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings."
- Mariam
Conclusions and Recommendations
The first time I read this novel, it took me a long time to finish it. Heavy was the word that I used to describe it. And it is.

I decided to reread it because I felt I needed to. And its effect to me was still the same. It takes me by the hand, penetrates by mind and pierces my heart and soul.

It is one of those stories that molds your character, makes you aware of how petty your complaints are compared to the rest of the world. It gives you perspective; and not the self-indulgent kind, but the kind that introduces you to overwhelming emotions, to unreal but highly probable scenarios and the cruelties of war. A Thousand Splendid Suns will make you weep. And the weeping would not only be for the darker side of human existence, but also for the Light in it - the acts of kindness and love; just as Tariq had wept for Sayeed's kindness. This is one of those books that will ravage and destroy you, only to leave you reconstructed and anew. 

I highly recommend it.

Cheers to the next adventure!

PS: I will not enumerate the characters because my purpose in writing book reviews is to make you, readers, salivate for more. I want you to go read as many books as possible. This is just a teaser, if you may.

Disclaimer: The quotes are for the intention of a review, not for copyright infringement. They belong to the respective copyright holders.


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