2007, 372 pages
For me, there's nothing that quite rivals the feeling of picking up a favorite book, opening it to the first page, and reembarking on a journey that I know will captivate and move me. Yes, I know what's to come, but I find something extremely comforting in re-immersing myself in the writing and a story that I know and love.
That feeling of comfort is exactly what happened from the minute I opened A Thousand Splendid Suns to the first page. A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of my favorite books, and I took advantage of the Flashback Challenge to give myself an excuse to reread it. The reread proved that this book very much deserves its place as one of my favorites.
A Thousand Splendid Suns takes place in Afghanistan, and tells the intertwined stories of two very different women - Mariam and Laila. These two women live in Kabul and survive the war that surrounds them as the communist regime falls and, ultimately, the Taliban gains power. This book offers a window into the effects of the war and shows how the Taliban regime affected the scope of these women's lives.
Mariam grows up outside of Herat, Afghanistan. She lives with her mother in a village outside of the city, visited once a week by her father, Jalil, who, while kind to his illegitimate daughter, keeps her separate from the children of his three wives. Despite this, Mariam loves Jalil and looks forward to his visits, to the chagrin of her mother.
Laila is born in Kabul as the communist government takes control in Afghanistan. All her life, Laila has lived next door to Tariq, her best friend, who lost a leg when he stepped on a mine in his childhood. As she reaches adolescence these feelings develop into something more. Meanwhile, Laila's mother allows depression to overcome her after her two sons leave to fight in the war, and Laila is the one who takes care of her father. A teacher, Laila's father is determined that Laila should get an education.
I know you are still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now, he said. Marriage can wait, education cannot. You're a very, very bright girl. Truly you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if it's women are uneducated, Laila. No chance. (p103)We are introduced to these two women separately, and watch as they are forced to grow up and as their lives become intertwined by the war. For me, it is Mariam's story that really gives this novel its compelling and powerful edge. As much as I love Laila's story, and I do, it is Mariam's life that I find utterly heartbreaking, and that moves me to tears at the end of the novel. Take this quote, for example:
At the time, Mariam did not understand. She did not know what this word harami--bastard--meant. Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born. Mariam did surmise, by the way Nana said the word, that it was an ugly, loathesome thing to be a harami, like an insect, like the scurrying cockroaches Nana was always cursing and sweeping out of the kolba.I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone. It's heartbreaking yet hopeful, and provides a window into the recent history of Afghanistan. Hosseini's writing is beautiful, and this is a story that I will come back to time and time again.
Later, when she was older, Mariam did understand. It was they way Nana uttered the word--not so much saying it as spitting it at her--that made Mariam feel the full sting of it. She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance. (p4)