Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Review (Audio): A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Yes, I know. I'm the only person who has never read Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. And up until last week, I was the only person who never read anything by Khaled Hosseini.

There was no particular reason for this, and I don't have any excuses. It just was what it was. I even own both books.

But you see, I'm trying something new with my audiobooks. At the library, I'm looking for audios of books that are sitting here on my TBR shelves at home; that way, I get the feeling of accomplishment that comes from reading a TBR without interrupting the flow of the printed library books. (I know, very clever of me, eh? This is why they pay me the big blogging bucks, to share such wisdom with you.)

OK, I'm rambling because since you (and everyone else) has read A Thousand Splendid Suns, you certainly don't need me to provide an actual review. Wait ... you mean you haven't read it either? You actually want to hear what I thought? Well, then. I can sum this up in four words:

I loved this book.

From the book jacket: A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years - from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding - that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives - the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness - are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Although the war certainly is an integral part to A Thousand Splendid Suns, the heart of this story belongs to two women, Mariam and Laila. Hosseini's second novel opens with Mariam living with her bitter and verbally abusive mother, Nana, who never lets Mariam forget that she is an illegitimate child, a harami.
"It was the way Nana uttered the word - not so much saying it as spitting it at her - that made Mariam feel the full sting of it. She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing: that she, Mariam, was an unwanted person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance. Jalil [Mariam's father] never called Mariam this name. Jalil said she was his little flower." (pg. 4)
Mariam's beloved father turns on his 15-year old daughter, however, arranging for her to marry Rasheed, a shoemaker who Hosseini's brilliant descriptions conjure up as an ogre straight out of the earth's fiery core. Soon, Rasheed's horrific abuse and relentless violence take hold. Not content with Mariam, at age 60 Rasheed marries 14 year old Laila.

While reading of Laila's childhood, like Mariam's, it is heartbreaking to watch the erosion of promise and potential that Rasheed has physically and emotionally obliterated in each girl. Through the years and their lives together, their circumstances become dominated by the abuse suffered at the hands of Rasheed. He robs them of their dignity, their pride, and all but a small piece of their souls.

"Seasons had come and gone; presidents in Kabul had been inaugurated and murdered; an empire had been defeated; old wars had ended and new ones had broken out. But Mariam had hardly noticed, hardly cared. She had passed these years in a distant corner of her mind. A dry, barren field, out beyond wish and lament, beyond dream and disillusionment. There, the future did not matter. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold." (pg. 229)
Eventually, Mariam and Laila take hold of each other, their children's futures and their very survival in a way that is courageous and heartbreaking at the same time.

This is not an easy book to read (or listen to). I found myself often breathless and on one occasion, so wrapped up in the story that I drove home twice almost on autopilot. It's especially compelling now, given that Afghanistan and the conflicts in that region are so very much in the news.

But make no mistake about it, A Thousand Splendid Suns is that rare book that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It is an emotional journey through decades and with women who may be worlds away, but who are similar to so many of us in so many ways.

See what other bloggers said ... (and if you have a review, let me know that too!)


JoAnn said...

I *loved* this book - even more than The Kite Runner. Your review is timed perfectly. It gave me the quick refresher I needed before going to hear Hosseini speak tomorrow!

Florinda said...

I reviewed this one a couple of years ago, when I read it for my book club:

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I picked at it a bit - mostly in comparison to The Kite Runner - but liked it enough to end up giving it a 4/5 rating.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

JoAnn - how cool that you're hearing Khaled Hosseini speak tomorrow! Feel free to mention my review ... LOL! I expect a full report on your blog. :)

Florinda - I added your review to mine - thanks!

K a b l o o e y said...

Um... last woman on Earth here... I haven't read either. I know, I know. AND I'm a pretty compulsive/voracious reader. They aren't on my bookshelves yet, but now I will hit the library as soon as I winnow down my stack of books-to-be-read. (Borders just had Educators' Week, so I'm a bit more loaded than usual.) But I feel like singing "this is Major Tom to ground control..." because it's lonely out here by myself.

Belle said...

Great review. I haven't read A Thousand Splendid Suns OR The Kite Runner yet, either. Don't think I want to try it in audio, though. I really liked your excerpts - it sounds like a very heartwrenching read.

Lisa said...

I loved it. It took me forever to read because I kept getting so emotional about it.

My review is here: