Written by Dheena Mohamed
Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-born American novelist and physician. He has published three novels, most notably his 2003 debut The Kite Runner, all of which are at least partially set in Afghanistan and feature an Afghan as the protagonist.
Following the success of The Kite Runner he retired from medicine to write full-time. All three of his novels became bestsellers: The Kite Runner spent 101 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list, four of them at number one. A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) was a Times Best Seller for 103 weeks, 15 at number one. And the Mountains Echoed (2013) debuted near the top of the Times list and remained on it for 33 weeks until January 2014.
This story revolves around two women, Mariam and Laila, born 20 years apart, but whose lives are intertwined through the events of the novel. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy merchant named Jalil who has 3 wives and 9 “legitimate” children. Mariam’s mother, Nana, was a servant in Jalil’s house whose affair with Jalil resulted in Mariam. As expected, the 3 wives were less than enthused and Nana and Mariam were forced to live on the outskirts of town, making Nana a bitter often cruel person to Mariam.
The other major character is Laila (born in 1978) who lives in the same region as Mariam. Laila’s story starts with her close friendship with a boy named Tariq who is a disabled boy with one leg. Years later, with Kabul under constant rocket attacks. Just before Laila’s family left Kabul they were caught in one of the rocket attacks that kills her parents and severely injures Laila. Through a series of mostly tragic circumstances, Mariam and Laila both end up married to a serious scumbag named Rasheed.
Much to the author’s credit, I found myself torn between wanting to yell at Laila/Mariam to hush up, so that she'd avoid another beating. I was so angry, infuriated even, full of loathing at how terribly, how poorly we humans can treat each other, at the closed-mindedness we allow ourselves to rule our lives with, how blindly we trail and powerlessly, fearfully tolerate cruelty and exploitation. My eyes welled in a few places. At one point, I had to stop reading, close my eyes, and gather myself as the story hit close to home. But by the end, tears were streaming down my face, and I was once again left feeling immensely satisfied.
There is a calamity in A Thousand Splendid Suns––tear-jerking tragedy––yet the story is in due course an inspirational epic with the power to enlighten the reader piously as well as historically. As you read this you cannot help but be moved by the distressing fact that our fiction has been many a poor Afghan woman's reality. This eye-opening read has the power to change your view of the world and your role in it, and that makes it a truly masterful piece of literature.
It is a story of love and faith in each other, in sacrifice and terror that will stay with you long after you close the book. It's also a story that shows the strength and crucial victory of the human spirit and the power to forgive and go on. It is, a story to be remembered and treasured.