Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid SunsA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, like the author’s other world-famous book ‘The Kite Runner’, is a book I will probably never read again.

Some books are so bad you regret the wasted hours of life you lost reading them. This is not one of those. This is the other kind – the book which gets under your skin, which is so real, so heart-breaking, so close to soul-destroying that you can bear to experience it just once but know that your very being will never tolerate the strain a second time. At least not for another 10-15 years. If I tried to read it again now I believe my heart would shatter into a thousand pieces – one for every sun.

The tale of Mariam and Laila, two Afghani women brought together despite being worlds apart in so many ways, is as beautiful as it is tragic. Just as with ‘The Kite Runner’ Hosseini succeeds in piling on tragedy upon horror upon tragedy and just when you think the blackest moment as arrived, applies more horror again. At points I begged God to show mercy to these characters. How much can a person suffer? I wondered again and again.

Where this novel differs, for me, from Hosseini’s former work is that with ‘The Kite Runner’ I found myself identifying with the Muslim culture. So many of the words, terms and cultural aspects of Afghanistan life I recognised in the life and culture of my Muslim friends in Bangladesh where I lived many years. I revelled in this familiarity despite the pain Hosseini went on to describe. But with ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ perhaps I had already adjusted to that familiarity and this time I felt myself in a strange land and I realised I didn’t know Afghanistan at all.

While it is obvious that Hosseini is very pro-West and both books are fiercely anti-Taliban, nevertheless this novel more than the first really taught me about this 30-year modern historical period of a country I don’t know first-hand. Despite a bias, I have a greater understanding of what went on and why, and how the Soviets, the West, the Mujahideen and the Taliban all fit in the tangled tale of Afghanistan. For that, I’m grateful to the author for educating me and I believe the novel worth reading for anyone interested in knowing more about a much misunderstood world.

As for the quality of the writing…well I have very little to comment and perhaps that the best praise I can give. Whereas many a novel I find myself criticising some stylistic aspect or admiring for some other technique, with Hosseini’s writing I wasn’t aware of the prose at all. I was IN the story, living with the characters and almost breathing alongside them. It was only afterwards that I came to try and analyse the author’s technique but I found it impossible to do.

Maybe a part of that is a refusal deep inside me to acknowledge ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ as a novel. It isn’t. Mariam was real. Laila was real. It was all fact and there is no analysis of fiction to undertake at all. I refuse to accept otherwise.

And in a sense, for millions of Afghani women during that period, my view really is true and quite correct to take. Anything else is all but insulting to the memory of their suffering.

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