Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2007
A lot of people must have read this book already. Hence I don’t know if a review of the book is still relevant. Nevertheless let me review it because I love the novel. It’s one of the best that I read in the recent past.
A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of Afghanistan from early 1960s to 2003. It is a tortured history. Afghanistan went through a series of violent wars during the period. The wars between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras, the Hazaras versus Massoud, Sayyaf versus the Hazaras, Massoud versus Hekmatyar with Pakistan supporting the latter, the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets with the Americans supporting the former, the Taliban factions fighting one another and the Americans fighting the Taliban.
Hosseini tells a moving story with all these wars going on in the background. It’s the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, both of whom were married to Rasheed when they were just about 15 years old. But Mariam is 34 when Laila comes in as a rival. The rivalry does not last, however. It gives way to love and understanding in the face of their husband’s cruelty.
Mariam was called a harami by her own mother right from her childhood. Jalil, her father, could not accept her as his daughter legally since Mariam’s mother was only a servant in his household. But Jalil is kind enough to visit his daughter every week with some gift or the other. He is fulfilling an obligation. In the end he consummates his obligation by giving Mariam in marriage to the 45-year old Rasheed from Kabul. Mariam remains a harami till the end of her life – unloved, unwanted by anyone, except Laila.
Laila’s is a tragic story too though she was admired and loved by her husband for her physical charms. But physical charm is not everlasting. And Rasheed is not virtuous enough to understand the qualities beneath those charms. His religion is also a strong deterrent to love and compassion especially toward women.
Hosseini weaves a poignant tale with these and the other characters. He takes us on a tour of Afghanistan torn pathetically by violence of all sorts. The religion (Islam) is of no help here; it is as violent as the terrorists! Hosseini even gives us a list of the rules enacted by the Taliban. These rules alone are enough to point out the heartlessness of certain religious movements.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of a few hearts that retain love and goodness in spite of the heartless violence and hatred that rage all around. It is the story of the undying power of human love and compassion.
The conclusion seems a little contrived. Except for that the novel is a triumph. I came across it rather late. Those who have missed it should make a beeline to the nearest bookstore.