Afghanistan’s history is marked by grief, loss, tragedy and terrorism, and was brought graphically and sensitively to our attention when The Kite Runner was published in 2003. Greeted with storms of enthusiasm, Hosseini’s emotive novel became a publishing phenomenon – so could his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, even hope to be as successful?
The answer is yes. I myself could not put this book down. It was a real page-turner, a heart breaker, a soul shaker. Hosseini again displays with fluency and experience the tragedy that is living in Afghanistan, but this time through the eyes of two women, Mariam, a young illegitimate child, forced into an arranged marriage to a stranger, and Laila, an intelligent but soon orphaned girl in love with her best friend Tariq.
Laila and Mariam tell the story of modern Afghanistan, proving that survival has to go on even in the darkest moments of loss. Life there for the women becomes a struggle against domestic violence, accepting their loss of human rights, and striving for a better future, away from the control and the terrorism that has now become a part of their culture.
Mariam is married off to an older repulsive man, who turns violent when Mariam fails to provide him with a child through numerous miscarriages. Laila’s homelife is destroyed when a bomb tears apart her house, killing both her parents, and Mariam and her husband Rasheed care for her while she is injured. She is only allowed to stay if she agrees to become his second wife, and with a secret she must protect, she is only too desperate to find shelter there.
What hit me as I read through these chapters was the haunting truth that what I was reading was based on fact. The despicable traditions still followed today, of women enduring in silence whatever was thrown at them, are unbelievably wrong through the eyes of a Western reader. The most harrowing of examples is when Laila has a caesarean without any anaesthetic, as women are no longer permitted to treat or be treated in practising hospitals. Distressing events such as these pull Mariam and Laila together, and as a reader we learn that love, hope and friendship will live on even in the heart of death, destruction and extreme injustice.
You should also be prepared to question the motives in society today – the responsibility we have as humans in this world, to protect each other, to protect our own people, or to protect our own country? Political, social and emotional issues will confront you with each page, bringing home that our world hasn’t come as far from the barbarian ages as we think it has. A powerful and enthralling read, I would recommend it to every single person with every single reading taste. Congratulations Hosseini, you’ve done it again.
You know what we’ve read this summer? is an ongoing series of articles for OxStu Online, giving you our top tips on books of all shapes and sizes that we think you should be reading this summer. Check out the first reviews here and here, or check in soon for the next update, and if you have your own suggestions or opinions let us know in the comments!