Some of you may remember that I recently read The Kite Runner by Khaleed Hossenini (Review: here). As soon as I had turned the final page and laid staring at the ceiling for a few minutes to realise that the books was finished, I was on Amazon to buy another book he had written: A Thousand Splendid Suns. Unfortunately, it arrived as the exam panic kicked in, so was sidelined to be read once I was finished. When I told people what I planned on reading post-exams, I was given so many exclamations of excellence that I am delighted to say, have been fulfilled!
Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaleed Hossenini
Published: 2007 by Bloomsbury
Available in paperback and kindle (Available to purchase from Amazon: here)
A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of Miriam, a teenage girl who is married off to a man she has never met, and is moved to Kabul. Her story starts aged six, as she grows up in isolation, desperately waiting for the moments she sees her father, spanning her adolescence, and as she is married to Rasheed and moved from the only home she has ever known. Rasheed is older than her, bitter and controlling, and Miriam’s marriage is shaped by her desire to avoid upsetting him. Fifteen years later, as the Soviets have left Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen take over ruling, with political unrest and civil war splitting the country, Laila is left without protection, and is moved into Miriam’s unhappy household. Over time, these two women come to depend on each other for friendship and survival in a world falling apart around their ears. They live a life of desperate struggle, endurance and a fight against starvation and brutality.
At it’s heart, this book is about love. And more specifically, the love forged by familial bonds and those of friendship. As a child, Miriam, illegitimate, was betrayed by the person she worshipped the most out of shame and the rules of society. She was removed to a loveless, friendless househould and she survived, day to day, virtually alone. When Laila is introduced, recently orphaned and left behind as her friends flee Kabul for Pakistan, Miriam rightfully resents Laila’s usurpation of her role. But as the novel progresses, Miriam and Laila start to depend on each other, trust each other, and love each other in a powerful bond that cannot be erased by the awful situation that they are subjected to, a situation so far beyond their control.
There were so many moments where you could taste Miriam and Laila’s hope for a better future, where the excitement is tangible, which makes it all the more devastating when their hope is dashed, when they are returned to their downtrodden lives. As you turn the pages you wish for a happy ending for them, that they can escape, where you wish that the unfolding story was not taking place and that they could live peaceably and happily. The reader is forced to visualise this war torn country, under the rule of the Taliban, and the position of women and how often they are betrayed. And it shows you that despite humans having an astounding capacity to cause harm and suffering to each other, there is always hope, and there is always love. And with these, humans have the ability to survive, to fight, and to protect those that they love.
The characters, the setting, the violence, all described in vivid, vibrant detail immerse the reader in a world and a time far from here. Two women, bound by awful circumstances in a marriage to a truly despicable man, who manage to find friendship and family in each other when all else seems lost.
All I can say to conclude this review is that this book will stay with me for a long time. Whatever genre you prefer, I would wholeheartedly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I also recommend a box of tissues around Book 4.