I read many books in a year. Some I read for entertainment and others to increase my knowledge. Then there is the rare book that does both of those things, plus touches your heart as well. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini does just that. Earlier it took me seven hours for me to read this melancholy story with four parts that eventually overlap. While packing my apartment recently, I packed this novel in my travel bag to re-read, and still it was no less gripping.
The title for this novel comes from a 17th Century poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi which was a beautiful poem written in praise of Kabul. The excerpt from which the title originated goes like this: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
But the beautiful poem begins its praise of this city with these lines:
“Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust“
The story and the history are beautifully woven together. Splendid Suns follows the lives of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila, as they move from children to adults. The story starts decades before the Taliban came into power in 1996, and ends after the era of Taliban rule.
The book spans 30 years, beginning with the Soviet invasion and ending with the overthrow of the Taliban. It’s difficult to explain more of the story without spoiling the plot, but these two women go from being enemies to unlikely friends. Centuries of embedded traditions and cultural proscriptions cannot be changed overnight, yet never again must the women of Afghanistan be forgotten.
The author paints a stark picture of how much harm religious fanaticism and intolerance can do. But, it also paints a picture of hope that the winds of change can blow cool and refreshing.
Previously, I didn’t know much about the political turmoil in Afghanistan and the various factions vying for power. I knew women had an appalling time living under the Taliban regime, but I didn’t realize how horrible conditions really were. The author holds nothing back in painting a stark picture of what it means to be a woman in a culture where they are valued only for how well they keep a house, and how many sons they produce. A culture where they are subject to the whims of men. Those that value them as worthwhile human beings are welcome oases – they seem to be the exceptions in their world, rather than the norm. I also learned of the natural beauty of Afghanistan and her fascinating history.
This eye-opening read has the power to change your view of the world and your place in it, and that makes it a truly masterful piece of literature. It’s lovely and breathes life into a place very far away from us – in miles as well as spirit. It might make you feel uncomfortable and in some parts you will wish that you could do something; even though you realize that this is a book of fiction. At one point, you will stop reading, close your eyes, and gather yourself as the story hit close to home.
This book is an experience, to say the least!