Unless you’ve been stuck under a rock for the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling debut novel, The Kite Runner. As the title suggests however, I am not here to discuss The Kite Runner, but Hosseini’s second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.
So why mention The Kite Runner at all? Well, like many others who have read and loved Hosseini’s debut novel, I was anxious to see whether A Thousand Splendid Suns would be just as good. The conclusion? I wish I hadn’t put it off for so long, A Thousand Splendid Suns did not disappoint in any way!
The narrative itself follows two women, Miriam and Laila, whose lives become intertwined under the most painful of circumstances…We first meet Miriam as a child, a “harami” who lives with her mother in Herat, Afghanistan. She idolises her father Jalil, placing her relationship with her mother under immense strain and not long after her 15th birthday she is forced into a marriage with a man named Rasheed in Kabul. Fast forward a number of years and Hosseini introduces us to Laila, a young girl who lives in the same area as Miriam and Rasheed in Kabul. However, not wanting to give the game away I will leave things there.
Suffice it to say the novel was engaging and heart-wrenching in every conceivable way. I particularly want to mention how Hosseini chronicles Afghanistan’s tumultuous history and the impact of war on day to day living – the disruption to domesticated life, the ever stricter misogynistic control over women’s lives, and the very visible presence of death on the streets of cities and towns across the country. How Miriam and Laila’s relationship develops within this unpredictable setting is also remarkably touching; it’s difficult, wrapped up in complication and by no means picture perfect. I loved that both women were strong and vulnerable in very different ways, I loved that there was a difference in age and experience between Miriam and Laila, but perhaps most importantly I loved that the male characters (who are important to the narrative) never once seemed distracting or overshadowed them – it always remained Miriam and Laila’s story*.
So to sum up – go read it, go love it.
*Hosseini claims the inspiration of A Thousand Splendid Suns comes from a visit to Kabul where he recalls “seeing these burqa-clad women sitting at street corners, with four, five, six children, begging for change […] I spoke to many of those women in Kabul. Their life stories were truly heartbreaking… […] I found myself thinking about those resilient women over and over. Though no one woman that I met in Kabul inspired either Laila or Mariam, their voices, faces, and their incredible stories of survival were always with me, and a good part of my inspiration for this novel came from their collective spirit.”