A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Trade Paperback: 432 pages
Thousand Splendid Suns
As I read the final lines of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ my moist eyes dazzled with unshed tears. Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel ‘Kite Runner’ had made a similar impact. Therefore, I had confidently bought his second novel with similar expectations.
From the first page, this book captivates taking you to the life in Afghanistan. A story set in the backdrop of a war torn country where normal life has become a luxury, it is a brilliant portrayal of human suffering and bonding, of faith and love, of friendship and betrayal, of courage and loss. It is an incredible tale based on the lives of people who try to find stability and meaning of life in abnormal circumstances.
The book starts with Mariam, who lives with her mother Nana. Mariam is an illegitimate child of Jalil a wealthy businessman. He visits them once a week. These weekly visits are the high point in Mariam’s early life. His gifts make Mariam happy but Nana is not deceived.
Just before Mariam’s fifteenth birthday Jalil mentions a movie ‘Pinocchio’ which is playing at his cinema. Mariam asks him to take her to the movie with his family and introduce her to her step siblings. An apprehensive Jalil tries to convince her by telling that the movie is not good. On Mariam’s persuasion, he reluctantly agrees but fails to keep the promise. Mariam’s world is shattered on her birthday when she goes to meet Jalil on her own. This is a turning point in Mariam’s life. Nana commits suicide and in a short span of time bewildered Mariam is married to Rasheed who is old enough to be her father.
Alone and lost, she tries to adjust to a life in a new place with Rasheed. Soon she gets pregnant and is thrilled to have a baby of her own, which is her chance to find unconditional love first time in life. Unfortunately, she miscarries and again her life is shattered.
Readers are then introduced to Laila, who is the daughter of Mariam’s neighbor. Laila’s mother always yearns for her two sons fighting in the war to come home soon. Laila has a close friend and confidante Tariq, who supports her. They get separated when the jihad ends and internal agitation gives rise to bombing and firing. Laila’s parents are killed placing her on crossroads.
This first part of the novel introduces characters who have opposite destinies; Mariam an unwanted child yearns for love and attention from her father and Laila who is a much loved child of her parents.
The second half explores the journey of these two women who come together in strange circumstances. Destined to a similar fate they pave the way towards a relationship which starts on a cautious note and later transforms into a cherished friendship. Laila’s daughter Aziza brings them closer. They suffer, endure and share some touching moments of complete understanding. Running away from a hellish life is complicated and their attempt fails. This calls for more torture on the part of Rasheed whose cruelty knows no limits.
The story moves on parallel lines as we witness the repercussions of the outside world on the daily life. The oppressive regime of Taliban, forces Rasheed to do menial jobs and Laila’s daughter is sent away to an orphanage.
Tariq who is supposed to have been killed returns and resumes his relationship with Laila. This is a defining moment. Circumstances force Mariam to murder her husband. She forces Laila to leave before the Taliban comes to know about the murder. Laila and Tariq leave for Pakistan with Aziza and Mariam’s son. Years later they return to Kabul after the fall of Taliban and work towards the restoration of the orphanage.
It is a saga of love as the Kite Runner was. It is a radiant story of human spirit which longs for a respite and takes a strange course to find joy. This is well indicated by the Titanic wave which encompasses Afghanistan and Kabul. People get pirated videos and dig out the TV sets to watch the movie in extreme secrecy. There are ‘Titanic’ cloth, perfumes, burkas and toothpastes sold in the market. It provides a relief from the atrocities of the Taliban regime.
Hosseini has a simple style and readers can relate with the characters with ease. He writes expertly about the emotions as he subtly weaves the fabric of the story by painting vivid images with beautiful word play. Human emotions are universal and are dealt with great dexterity by the author.
The title is taken from Sai-e-Tabrizi’s poem about Kabul.
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”
The apt title emphasizes the metamorphosis of Kabul in the recent years. It is a story of a land which treats women with deep disrespect. Such society is a hopeless place and cannot exist for long. The book underlines the message strongly.
A must read
Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan. His father was a diplomat. His family received political Asylum in the United States at the time of the Soviet invasion. In September 1980 his family moved to San Jose, California. He has a medical degree and lives in northern California.
Amazon’s #1 book of the year, 2007
Nominated for ALA’s Best Book for Young Readers Award, 2008
Book Sense Picks Highlights, 2007