Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Housseini
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.