A Thousand Splendid Suns is a story that attempts to show the fallout that Afghanistan’s violent history has had on a handful of individuals, ending in death at the hands of the Taliban for one character, and the promise of a new life for another.
Though women-centric, the story is extremely well crafted in a way that it aids the readers to get an insight of the Afghan culture as a whole. The story talks about how difference in perspective is prevalent in the society be it within a family, a neighborhood or between cities.
Hosseini’s second novel, is a riveting story, and is focused on two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila. The novel is again set against the turbulent backdrop of Afghanistan. Hosseini focuses on mother-daughter relationships and the bond between close women friends. It’s a fascinating subject, especially considering the appalling history of oppression of women in Afghanistan. Hosseini makes it clear that he intends to deal with the plight of women in Afghanistan, and in the opening pages the mother of one of the novel’s two heroines talks portentously about “our lot in life,” the lot of poor, uneducated “women like us” who have to endure the hardships of life, the slights of men, the disdain of society.
At the beginning, we are dropped into the world of Mariam, who is born a harami, or illegitimate child, in 1959 in the town of Herat. She is a young girl living alone with her unmarried mother on the outskirts of Herat. Although Mariam does not lead one of the happier lives, she is portrayed as an optimist who takes circumstances into her stride . Poor Mariam is bullied by her epileptic mother, and she lives for her weekly visits from her insincere, charming father who runs Herat’s cinema, and whose real family she longs to join.
Before many pages have been turned Mariam’s mother has died, and her unfeeling father has married her off to an acquaintance from Kabul. Despite the trauma of going to live with a complete stranger who insists that she must wear the burqa and hide upstairs when visitors arrive, a tentative hopefulness begins to grow in Mariam that she may be able to win some affection from her husband, especially when she becomes pregnant. But Hosseini vividly brings home what life is like for women in a society in which they are valued only for reproduction.
Once she has suffered a series of miscarriages, Mariam’s marriage becomes a prison.
In Part Two of the novel, Hosseini writes from Laila’s perspective. Laila is born in Kabul in 1978, the night of the coup, a year before the Soviets invade the country. She is born into a liberal family; her father is a teacher and fosters her education. Laila is only 10 years old when the jihadists defeat the communist regime. In 1992, she watches the last Soviet convoy leave the city and the country fall into civil war. She is 14 years old when her childhood love, Tariq, flees to Pakistan with his family. Soon after, a rocket slams Laila’s house, killing both of her parents. Laila regains consciousness in the home of her neighbor, Rasheed. Mariam is dressing her wounds.
Where Hosseini’s novel begins to sing is in depicting the slowly growing friendship of the two wives in the face of horrific abuse from their shared husband. Laila looks at Mariam, and “For the first time, it was not an adversary’s face Laila saw but a face of grievances unspoken, burdens gone unprotested, a destiny submitted to and endured. If she stayed, would this be her own face, Laila wondered?” The women’s only hope of affection or solidarity is with one another, and they survive not just physically but also emotionally by putting their faith in each other and in their love for Laila’s children.
The writing style and skill of storytelling is strongly driven by the author’s ultimate desire and belief in the eventual redemption of Afghanistan. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an important, provocative work. The rich and violent history of Afghanistan provides a backdrop that informs and saturates the story. Hosseini’s characters, Mariam and Laila, are unforgettable; their compassion for each other and love for their children is devastating. Hosseini has succeeded in writing an epic tale, a novel not to be missed.