One eye on my soup, the other on the pages of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, I managed to finish this excellent novel just a short time ago. And so I decided to tell you all about it.
Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, brings the world of Afghanistan to life for his American audience, enchanting us with his descriptions of its beauty and richness, and wrenching our hearts as we watch it slowly destroyed through thirty years of conflict. In many ways it is a book to make us not forget about Afghanistan, a fear voiced by a character at the close of the novel, keep in our minds the effects of war and cultural strife that tore Afghanistan apart.
But it also a compelling narrative about two women, Mariam and Laila who are caught in the aftermath of war and violence, victims of the power shift from the Soviets to the Mujahideen, who then fell into civil unrest and sectarian violence, followed by the rise of the Taliban and the restrictions they enforced. Mariam is married off at fifteen to Rasheed, a violent, ill-tempered man who forces Mariam to dress in burka and punishes her because she cannot carry a child to term. Her silent, long-suffering character is juxtaposed with Laila, the young, beautiful girl who is love with Tariq, her childhood friend who lost a leg to a land mine.
Mariam is reclusive and shy, while Laila is able to go to school and have a public life. But it all changes the day that her parents are killed when a rocket blows up their house; fourteen year old Laila survives and is nursed back to health by Mariam and Rasheed. Rasheed decides that Laila either needs to marry him or leave; he refuses to pay for her upkeep any longer. Laila agrees--but only because she discovers she is pregnant with Tariq's child, who she has been told is dead, and cannot make it to the Pakistan border.
As the narrative continues, Mariam move from enemies to friends who both suffer at the hands of their violent husband who insults, beats, and abuses both women. It is their friendship that sustains them both, giving love and purpose to Mariam's life and offering Laila love and support in turn.
The novel is not without its faults, but I found it compelling and captivating. It was hard to put down, and I feel offered a window into life in Afghanistan in the turbulent years leading up to 9/11 and the events following. It's a great read, and I recommend it if you need something good to fill up your summer evenings.