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Book Review - A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Category Book Reviews
Normally I'm more of an action-adventure type reader when it comes to novels and recreational reading.  But I was given the chance to read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner), so I decided to try something out of my normal genre.  I am *so* glad I did.  This is a stunning and moving novel of life and love in Afghanistan over a 30 year period.

The story covers three generations of women who were born and raised in Afghanistan from the early 60's through the present.  These three women tell their story of being raised in a culture that those of us in the West can hardly imagine.  Mariam was born in 1959, a child of a rich businessman and his servant.  As the child would be a major embarrassment to him and his three other wives, the servant is moved to a small shack outside of town.  Mariam worships her father, who visits her every week.  But her mother tries to convince Mariam that she's really a nuisance and inconvenience in his life, and should remember that all men are inherently bad.  The reader has to wonder which side of the story reflects the truth.  As the story progresses, Mariam grows up and is given to a stranger, Rasheed, in marriage.  Terrified by the whole prospect, Mariam has to adjust from a life of relative freedom and western culture to existence under a burqa and total subservience to her husband.  Rasheed changes from a kind, tolerable man to one who is a tyrant, as he is furious over Mariam's inability to produce a son for him.  Her suffering only increases with the arrival of Laila...

Laila is a child down the street from Mariam and Rasheed, and she also lives a life that is less than wonderful.  Her mother is afflicted by an illness that leaves her in what we would call a clinically depressed state all the time.  Laila is falling in love with a boy by the name of Tariq, but cultural norms prevent her from making that love known to him.  She is crushed when he leaves to fight in the ongoing war, but a passionate good-bye leads to a pregnancy.  Shortly thereafter, her home is hit by a missile, killing everyone but her.  She's taken in by Rasheed and Mariam, but soon finds another world of pain and suffering when Rasheed takes her as his second wife.  Like Mariam, she's plunged into the dominance and abuse of a male-dominated Islamic society.  She must conceal the true parentage of her child, Aziza, from Rasheed, knowing that her daughter (as well as herself) would likely be killed.  Life becomes harsh as the Taliban takes over Kabul, and the strict Islamic rule makes Mariam, Laila, and Aziza little more than second-class citizens that are used and abused by the men around them.  The story concludes with a turn of events that offer an escape for all three women, a way to release themselves from their life of hell.  This "escape" means different things to each one, however.  

This story affected me on a number of levels.  Many of us have no concept of what it's like to live in a war zone, never knowing whether each day or each hour will be your last.  Hosseini's been through that in Afghanistan, and he paints that experience into his story in a way that's hard to forget.  It was also sobering to see just how some governments, when applying their form of Islamic rule, utterly obliterate the personhood of women.  The will to survive and persevere under crushing oppression from men left me speechless.  It's hard to remember that this "story" is just normal existence for millions around the world.  Finally, the concept of love and duty portrayed here is beautiful.  Love isn't a mushy feeling that comes and goes depending on whether you happen to feel good about the person you're around.  Often it means sacrificing everything (including life) for them.  While there wasn't much that was lovely in their lives, these women learned the true meaning of the world through their devotion to others.

I have no doubt that this book will debut at the top of the best-seller lists, and it has every right to be there.  Besides being a story that will keep you up far past your normal bedtime, it will open your eyes to cultures and emotions that affect and drive the lives of a vast number of people.  It's not a book that will quickly be forgotten...

Comments

Gravatar Image1 - That was cruel... :)


Gravatar Image3 - I'm never going to get caught up... :)

Gravatar Image4 - my work is done!!!!!!!!

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