Book review by Dinh.
If you have never read any of Khaled Hosseini’s books, please do so now! His 2003 debut novel The Kite Runner was a fantastic book and was a five stars read! We were curious to see if his subsequent book, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) was just as good.
My expectations were set high since I loved Hosseini’s first book.
So, was A Thousand Splendid Suns good as his first book? The bottom line is, it’s was just as good!
Here’s why A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini gets a 5 out of 5 stars from me.
First off, I loved that the book is set in Afghanistan, (similar to the Kite Runner), and over a thirty years time frame from the Soviet invasion to the rise of Taliban and post Taliban era. It’s refreshing to get a glimpse of a place and a history that I don’t know about.
Secondly, I love the credibility of the novel. The story is about two women, Mariam and Laila. Mariam the first wife and Laila the second wife, have hard lives and they endure so much, not just from the abusive husband but also from the changes in the political regimes.
It follows Mariam’s life and how she ends up getting married in 1974, at fifteen to Rasheed who is in his forties. In 1992, Laila who is fourteen marries Rasheed and becomes his second wife.
Spoiler alert: This book contains graphic depictions of domestic violence.
Hosseini writes superbly! His style is simple and concise and he tells the story with an emotional ratchet that makes your heart ache. It is an incredible sad tale but it does have some positive moments.
Moreover, not only is the book moving, the tone and pace of the book is fantastic. I was turning the pages and completely absorbed from page one.
The themes in the book are numerous and it pulled me in. A theme that stood out to me was the suffering and perseverance. Though Mariam and Laila differ in their upbringing, both suffered greatly, yet they both endured. Mariam and Laila had to put up with violence against them, especially the pain inflicted by beatings from Rasheed.
Furthermore, they tolerated plenty of regime changes in their life times. Once the Taliban took over they implemented strict Islamic rules that took away women’s rights. Imagine having to wear a burqa all the time and not being allowed to go anywhere unless accompanied by a husband, brother or father. How about women not permitted to work?
In addition, I loved the female friendship theme in the book. Mariam and Laila had a rocky start to their relationship. Mariam was resentful and bitter towards Laila because Laila was young and Rasheed was extra nice to her. Later Mariam and Laila formed a friendship that could be seen as sisterly. At times, Mariam and Laila were like mother-daughter.
Hosseini’s skillfully writes great characters.
My favorite character was Mariam.
Mariam was an illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, Jalil. She grew up living in a hut outside Herat with her mother Nana. Every Thursday Jalil would come and visit Mariam. At the age of fifteen, Mariam marries Rasheed and goes to live in Kabul.
Mariam story was sad. Her mother called her “harami” -bastard/ illegitimate child and that brought her lots of shame. Her father couldn’t handle the shame either and rejected Mariam when she went to see him. Also, Rasheed spurned Mariam after she failed to give him children. This shortage of love and belonging traveled with Mariam all her life until she found a friend in Laila.
At the outset, it looks like Mariam is weak as she just suffers and endures the abuse from Rasheed. However, later she shows herself to be strong. She makes a sacrifice that boldly demonstrates that she is not weak.
Whilst reading I was surprised by the ending. It happened fast and I guess there was no other way it could have ended. But with hindsight it was inevitable someone had to pay the price.
The ending was bittersweet.
My Final Thoughts
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini was an emotionally powerful moving story about love, friendship and sacrifice set in Afghanistan. This well written story will give you an insight to the recent history of Afghanistan, at the same time showing what Afghan women have had to endure.
I highly recommend you to read it!
Belong to a book club? Check out A Thousand Splendid Suns book club discussion questions!