A Thousand Splendid Suns

Monday, November 1, 2010

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Housseini
Pages: 367
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Release Date: May 22, 2007

This had been recommended to me by pretty much everyone for a long time. And it was one of those I kept meaning to read but that sat on my shelf forever -- until just recently when I joined the world party reading challenge. October happened to be Afghanistan so what a perfect reason to pull this off the shelf and read it!

A Thousand Splendid Suns gives you not just a glimpse, but a wide eyed look at life in Afghanistan over the past 20 or so years. It's one that I almost wish I had read more slowly just so I could savor the story and characters more. (I always find the concept of reading more slowly sort of strange because I typically want to finish each book as fast as I can, but now I find myself missing this book... and yet, I wonder WHY?! do I feel this way... because the story itself is pretty horrifying).

I suppose I won't say too much since even the publisher's summary doesn't give away a lot. Basically it's about two different characters, Mariam and Laila, who we get to see quickly grow from children into adults. Mariam is a generation older than Laila. So part one focuses on Mariam, part two on Laila, and parts three and four on both. Mariam's and Laila's life circumstances bring them together, and through these characters we learn the history of Afghanistan and the terrors of the wars that have raged there.

One of the things that freaked me out was watching the progression of years; it was well paced so nothing ever seemed to drawn out, and even though a few years were skipped at a time here or there, it wasn't anything noticeable. But imagining the horrors Mariam and Laila dealt with -- the barbaric rules and nefarious manner in which they were treated just because they were women -- and then watching the years go up to 1999, 2001, etc. That wasn't a long time ago! Essentially that's now! Because of the Taliban these women weren't allowed to be outside without the companion of a man?! And if they were found they were questioned and often beaten. They had to wear a burqa everywhere they went. And because of this attitude towards women, domestic violence ran rampant and was accepted. The amount of physical abuse towards these women sickened me. And though I knew about some of the things happening in that part of the world, I don't think it really hit home how extreme it was. And them doing all that while I was out with my friends, driving myself around, graduating from high school, then college. It just doesn't seem right. And it's not, but this book really brought it home for me. Of course, now I feel frustrated because what can I do? Really? And is it still like that now? I don't know!

Anyway, Mariam and Laila are characters who had a significant impact on me. I don't think I realized how much of one until after I finished the book and, later, wanted to return to it. And while the ending wasn't a big punch or anything, I became emotional the minute I closed the book. And I hadn't cried during any other part of it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was an amazingly well-told story. The author utilized some subtle and basic literary techniques that I really appreciated. I've seen this book on some "school lists" at different bookstores and wholeheartedly agree this is a great book to be read by students in an effort to learn about the rest of the world.

And in that sense, the perfect pick for Afghanistan on the World Party Reading Challenge.


Mary said...

I loved this novel. Hosseini wrote wonderful female characters. I thought about it for a long time after I finished reading it.

Helen's Book Blog said...

I thought this book was a wonderful story. My adult friends as well as students (both boys and girls) at my school have all really enjoyed this book. I eagerly await his next novel!

Zibilee said...

I read and loved The Kite Runner by the same author, and got this book shortly after it came out in paperback. I still haven't read it , but I have heard that it is a haunting and sometimes horrifying read. I am really anxious to start it, and am so glad to see your review because it's brought the book to the forefront of my mind. This was a wonderful review, Jen. Very thoughtful and detailed!

Trisha said...

I haven't read Hosseini yet in part because of that frustration you feel when you read a book that portrays an issue you know you can't fix. While I read a lot of women's studies type books, I really space out the more abuse-laden ones set in contemporary times because I just get so amazingly sad and frustrated.

Glad to hear the book is a good read though since it's sitting on my shelves.

Amanda said...

For some reason this one didn't really affect me, either negatively or positively. I have a completely neutral feeling towards it and hardly remember it.

Kari said...

I'm glad to see you officially joined the World Reading Party!

I've been avoiding this one because I completely disliked The Kite Runner. I thought it was incredibly trite and exaggerated for emotion's sake (and I realize that statement also just made me sound completely heartless).

Have you read The Kite Runner? If so—I don't want to compare the two, but—did this one feel more honest? (question for anyone)

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

This was an incredibly powerful book wasn't it? I read it several years ago. It was heart wrenching, but I couldn't put it down. In response to Kari's question, I do think I liked this one a bit more than The Kite Runner. It did seem a little more real, as if the story just flowed naturally from the characters and their circumstances instead of needing to be manipulated so there could be a redemption. Does that make sense?

Jenny said...

-Mary: I agree!

-Helen: Good to know younger students have enjoyed it too@

-Zibilee: I don't remember kite runner much... i def. think you'd like this one though!

-Trisha: it was good but def. frustrating because of the extreme attitude towards women. =(

-Amanda: hmmm.. I sort of felt the same about kite runner even though I did like it.

-LOL Kari, you're funny. =) I really don't remember kite runner so it's hard for me to say. i do think this one was better though... and stephanie (comment below yours) commented on it so I would go with what she said! =)

-Stephanie: that definitely makes sense and even though I don't remember kite runner that well I think I agree, hehe (from what I remember)

okbolover said...

I haven't read this yet, haven't read The Kite Runner either. Guess I should get to it huh? ;) heard so much good about the author. Great review!

Trish said...

I just read another review for this one earlier today! Must be something in the water. ;) Like you this book had a big impact on me emotionally. It's frightening to think that this treatment of women is happening around the world and we're largely ignorant or uneducated about it. But what can we do? Kind of a hopeless feeling...

Packabook Travel Novels said...

Thanks for your great review Jenny. Would you like to post a link to it over at the Challenge?

And for those who feel helpless...I know exactly how you feel. But there is something you can do to help, and that is to support the Afghan women who are being very brave and writing about their experiences at the Afghan Women's Writing Project, often in secret and at great risk to themselves.

The most important thing for them is to know that their stories are being read, and so they ask people to comment on their work. You can read more about it on this post at Packabook

The stories these women right are eye-opening. And it is great to know you help them, just by reading their work.


Booksnyc said...

Sometimes I am disappointed by books that get a lot of "buzz" but this book was moving and has stayed with me for a long time. I hope the author writes another book soon!

Jenny Girl said...

I would like to read this book, however I know I will be so sucked in emotionally that I am afraid to pick it up. How weird is that?
I know this is a must read and certainly will but I have to wait until I am ready. Great review.

Erin said...

I read this for the World Party Reading Challenge as well, but I didn't end up liking the story much. I did, however, feel the same way you did about the plight of Afghan women. I'm glad I read the book just because it brought their situation home so effectively.

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