In Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns we are once again taken to Afghanistan. Here we learn about the lives of two different Afghani women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become entangled as they live out their individual destinies. While doing so, he encompasses the turbulent history of the country in that time and its effect on their lives.
The novel begins in 1974, when Mariam is fifteen. Her father, a rich business man, has abandonded Mariam and her mother. After her mother hung herself, Mariam went to her father for help. Now orphaned, her father is quick to marry her off to the first man who expresses an interest. Unfortunately, that man is Rasheed, a misogynistic bully many years her senior who takes her home and subjects her to a life of strict rules and introduces her to the burka. Things are passable at first, but as Mariam continues to miscarry Rasheed’s babies, he becomes increasingly abusive towards her.
We are introduced to the character of Laila, a girl who is a lot younger than Mariam and lives a far more liberal life. Her father encourages her to educate herself and gives her hope of a good career. But as the political tensions in Kabul escalate, a rocket attack on the house will kill everyone except Laila, and she will be taken to Rasheed and Mariam’s house, where she will be taken care of. There will be a lot of tension between the two women, but while Rasheed’s anger grows towards both women their friendship equally grows, leaving two abused but still strong women who will do anything for each other.
The title of the book is from a poem, written about Kabul by the poet Saib-e-Tabrizi who lived in the seventeenth century. Khaled Hosseini was born and raised in Afghanistan himself, but moved to Iran for his father’s carreer on a very early age.
The stories of Mariam and Laila are heartbreaking, but it is through that heartbreak that the reader is able to glean some very important knowledge about the lives of women in Afghanistan, both in the context of the overarching power of the Taliban and the more personal household power wielded by the men in their lives. A Thousand Splendid Suns was terrifying and soul-crushing at the same time that it was uplifting.
Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heartwrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love, a stunning accomplishment.