Whenever I go on vacation I have such good intentions of reading oodles of books and of getting plenty of writing done. Too often those good intentions get wiped away about five minutes after passing through the TSA screening. But on my most recent trip, my good intentions didn’t go astray thanks in large par to the wonderful book A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
About the Book
Like his previous novel, Kite Runner (also very good), Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns takes place in Afghanistan, but unlike Kite Runner, this time readers are pulled into the Afghan world by two women: Mariam and Laila. It’s a bit hard to describe the book without giving too much away, so if you don’t want to learn too much about the plot, then please scroll down to the next section.
Mariam is a bastard-born girl whose father is a wealthy businessman. Mariam longs to live with her father whom she idolizes, but he evades her requests for more time together. One night, she goes off to try to see her father at his house and while she’s away, her mom kills herself. Her father’s wives don’t want the bastard girl living with them so they arrange a marriage to a much older man, Rasheed, who lives hundreds of kilometers away.
Although he treats her well and with patience at first, when Mariam miscarries child after child, Rasheed shows his true nature (and it’s not a kind one). Within the town where Mariam and Rasheed live is a young girl Laila who enjoys the freedom of education, is loved by her parents and has high hopes for her future. When the communists are overthrown and the Taliban comes to town, her hopes are ruined and her world falls apart. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she knows she must find a husband soon. Eager for a young wife, Rasheed marries her.
The expected tensions between Mariam and Laila are ignored by Rasheed, but eventually they become friends and try to escape the cruelty of their abusive husband. With religious rule in place they end up being dragged back home for not traveling with a male relative. Eventually Laila learns the truth of how Rasheed tricked her in to marrying him and the two women fight together to free themselves from him.
How was it?
Unbelievable! The story takes place over thirty years when Afghanistan turns from a society where women can hold jobs, girls can attend school, and where religion is not the ruling force of politics to rule by the Taliban where all freedoms are taken away – the list of Taliban laws included in the book would be humorous if not so pathetically repressive. The political situations drive the much of the story but overall this is a story of love, endurance and survival that also happens to provide an interesting history lesson.
The stories of the two women and their relationship are handled perfectly. At no point does anything feel fake or contrived and in no way does it read like “chick lit.” The emotions are real and sometimes overpowering and everything is written in Hosseini’s beautiful style that stirs a bit of jealousy in my writing heart. The ending will make you happy when the women gain their freedom from Rasheed, but the happiness is bittersweet in its final outcome. And the realization that the time Laila lost in her marriage to Rasheed cannot be regained definitely stirs up a bit of heartache.
How good was it?
If I may be a bit cliche, I have to say this book completely sucked me in and did not let go! I started A Thousand Splendid Suns a couple days before leaving on vacation and had about 150 pages left when I boarded the plane for the two-hour flight. Normally on a plane, I am completely distracted waiting for the drink cart, watching what other people are doing, flipping through Sky Mall. Not with this book in my bag. I did not stop reading once and ended up finishing the book before we touched ground. Now that’s a good book!
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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.