Okay, first, I got Otherbound in the mail on Monday so obviously I took it with me when I flew out to Florida and OH MY GOSH GUYS I am SO EXCITED for this book. I devoured more than half of it on the way to Florida and I expect to finish it before getting back to Arizona and it’s not even June!
That said, here is the review of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini…
I read this book as a part of my efforts to go through Ann Morgan’s Reading Around the World List. Ann Morgan has generated this amazing list that I will be using to select books from authors around the world to read. We’re going alphabetically, starting with Afghanistan and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Synopsis: Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.
I read the unabridged audiobook, which was over 11 hours long. About halfway through, I posted this on Twitter:
I hate this book for how much it makes me feel and I love it because I feel so much. I still choke up a bit thinking about our two protagonists, Mariam and Laila. I mean, that whole thing about Pinocchio? Ugh, there were tears. In my car, while I was driving.
The narrative style alternates between direct, unflourished narration to gorgeous, poetic description. The plot does not follow your typical narrative structure but the passage of time and breaking it into different parts do create a solid structure that grounds the story.
It reminded me a little bit of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy, where the author spends a lot of time developing the main character, making her layered and complex and relatable (making me care about her) and then putting her in situations and circumstances so horrible and gut-wrenching that, just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. The ending also feels right and whole and satisfying, if not a little bittersweet. As with both stories, the circumstances the women endure actually exist in our world, making them more horrifying than anything I can dream up for my fantasy world.
A Thousand Splendid Suns has two female protagonists and the story builds each up separately before bringing them together. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy cinema owner in a society where such offspring are more often killed before birth than spared. Laila is an educated girl from a nice town with a crush on her childhood best friend. Each is different yet complementary. Each has her own story intertwined with the other’s. I really liked how Hosseini takes two very different Afghani women and shows how the political upheaval in the country over the last 50 years impacted different lives in unique and horrifying ways. I felt like each character was a person with motivations, hopes, and opinions all their own. And, let me tell you, those things were widely varied in this story. It was almost as fascinating to see how all these different people got along with each other as to see how they dealt with the horrors of war.
The violence that comes to Afghanistan is based on real conflict over the last 50 years from the invasion of the Soviets to 9/11. Reading how the whistling of rockets and the loss of friends and loved ones becomes routine for our characters is more than heartbreaking. I teared up several times during some of the hardest parts of the book. This is not light reading but it will compel you to keep going. Hosseini has this masterful way of writing such that you have a glimmer of hope throughout the tragedy that things will get better. It’s a hope he does not often reward.
I read A Thousand Splendid Suns instead of Kite Runner because I wanted to get a glimpse of life for Afghani women. This book is all about that. How Mariam and Laila relate to their mothers, to each other, and to the men in their lives is the mortar the stoey. For an American like me, with a shameful lack of knowledge about this culture, I find the relationships educational and entertaining. It is a peek into a fictionalized version of a real life place and real life events and I am so grateful the original Reading Around the World list goes in alphabetical order so I could start with this one.
Reading Around the World Moment
For each of the books I read from this list, I will select a moment that made me remember why I want to go through the list in the first place. It could be a moment that opens my eyes to something new, a particularly epic piece of prose, whatever.
That moment here was when I read that Laila is blond and she wears a sky blue burqa.
It’s a “something new” moment that has been a long time coming.
I didn’t know Afghan people could be naturally blond. The way they have been portrayed in all forms of visual media that I have seen paints a very homogenous picture of brown skin and dark hair. Similarly, I have only seen black burqas and didn’t think they came in anything else because 1) again, it’s all I’ve seen in media and 2) why would you wear a black burqa in that heat if you had anything else available?
In a Nutshell
A Thousand Splendid Suns is an amazing read and you should check it out, if you haven’t already.