October 5, 2009
A Thousand Splendid Suns
First published in: 2007
This edition: Bloomsbury, 2008
Cover photograph by Shaul Schwarz / Getty.
Cover design by David Mann; calligraphy by Stephen Raw
Quite a contrast, the photo of this review
next to the photo of R&R 060….
After the success of his first novel The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini brings us back to war-torn Afghanistan in the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, which focuses mostly on the abuse women have to endure (by the hands of men), all because of the Taliban.
Mariam is only 15 years old when she's forced to abandon life as she knew it before, and she is sent off to marry Rasheed – an older, traditional and very cruel man. Mariam's endurance is constantly tested, but her strength building over the years. When Mariam meets teenaged Laila several years later, the country is in the middle of a destructive war. And as the Taliban takes over and any shred of female independence is taken away from them, Mariam and Laila form a bond that's as strong as any bond between mother and daughter would be. Love is a powerful weapon.
Mariam's voice pulls you into her story immediately; she's instantly sympathized with. The reader starts to care for her. So when Hosseini shifts to Laila's perspective after the first 100 pages, it kind of feels like an interruption. But Laila quickly turns into a welcome force. The relationship between the two women is indeed a strong one, but has its obstacles to overcome first – this is necessary for the relationship to be believable, and I believe Hosseini treated the evolving relationship between Mariam and Laila well. The book was predictable in a sense, but that can be explained, I think, by the knowledge of what the Taliban and its followers are capable of. Sensing beforehand where the story is headed, however, doesn't make it any less of a shocker.
A Thousand Splendid Suns has a poetic title (literally; it was taken from the translation of a poem written in the seventeenth century), but the book is far from splendid, far from bright as sunshine. For a drama, it's very suspenseful. A lot happens, and it isn't pretty. The Kite Runner is similar in that sense, but that one seemed a little less realistic somehow (its ending like a movie). Though yes, what happens in The Kite Runner is a reality to far too many people, what happens to Mariam and Laila (and other women) in A Thousand Splendid Suns is realistic in a far more universal sense.
I think the photo accompanying this particular review speaks for itself, but just for good measure: this book didn't just pull at, but rather ripped out my heartstrings. Reading this book hurt. Because domestic abuse happens, every day, every minute. I hurt for all the women who have (had) to suffer through emotional, physical and / or sexual abuse in a place that is supposed to be safe to them – home. It happens all over the world. It happens every second. I felt for those women described by Hosseini. Not just as a woman, but rather as a person who is still (after years of studying psychology) baffled by the actions of her fellow human beings and how these actions are 'rationalized'.
Even though they are fictional characters, there are Mariams and Lailas everywhere. They will all stay with me.
R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
September 16, 2008
The Kite Runner
Book bought in: O’Hare airport, Chicago
By taking this book with me on my travels to New York, I forced myself to read it, thinking: “I will be on a plane. There will be nothing to do there except read this book. Now I will have to read it.”
The Kite Runner was, out of all the unread books still in my bookcase, the only one I feared opening, thinking it would be too difficult, too hard to get through.
This is a novel describing the coming of age of privileged Amir, who grows up with Hassan – son of the family’s servant – in Afghanistan’s Kabul, with its history of discrimination, division, and soon to be invasion, for there would be a war coming to rip Afghanistan and its people to shreds. A story of redemption, as a young naive boy tries to grow up in an irrational (and infuriating) world.
As I was reading, I found I had been right from the start: this book was difficult, and hard to get through. But not in the literal sense. I finished it in two days, and not because I was on a plane – I had started reading it while in the city.
A conflict arised; the book is masterfully written in understandable, comprehensible prose, fully engaging and unputdownable. But I have put it down so often, nonetheless. Close that book and take a moment to realize what I had been reading but seconds earlier. Yes, this book was difficult and hard. The relentless cruelty described, the harsh images that were conjured up in my head, both situations made it so this was not a book I could ‘enjoy’.
This is not recommended if you prefer books that leave you with a good feeling, a warmed heart, faith in mankind. You can forget all about that. This book will most likely move you, but not in a comforting way.
Sure, while I must admit that the story took a turn for the implausible and even started to seem more like The Bourne Whatevericy, I have to give this a high rating nonetheless. Despite the flaws I do feel it possesses, The Kite Runner opened my eyes a little more, and made me want to strive to be a better, more aware person. So there.
February 5th 2008.
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R&R series with photos and text © 2008 Karin Elizabeth.
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© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.