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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Reason for Reading: Turkey coma on T-Day
Rating: 4.5/5

I enjoyed Hosseini's previous book, The Kite Runner so much that I was absolutely afraid to read this book for fear my expectations were too high and I would hate it.

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. This book bears similarities stylistically and thematically to The Kite Runner, but it is just as good, if not better. It follows the very different lives of Mariam and Laila, who through very different life circumstances end up married to Rasheed, a shoemaker. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and a yearning to be fully accepted by her father leads to a distintigration of the familiar, if poor life she has been living. She winds up being married off to Rasheed, but marriage gives her little happiness. For many years, she endures life, until Laila comes into their household. Rasheed and Mariam have been estranged for many years now, but still Mariam protests the idea of another wife being brought in to the house. But Mariam and Laila strike up an unlikely friendship that will sustain them through some of the darkest hours of life in Afganistan.

Hosseini does an excellent job of writing characters that the reader will identify with and care about. Mariam's life is a very unhappy one, so we really root for her when Laila comes into her life and things begin to look up for her. Rasheed, who abuses both his wives horribly, is a monster, pure and simple, but he isn't a caricature or one-note stereotype. He's charming when he wants to be, his favoritism wavers and his tempers are erratic.

All of this is set across the backdrop of the tumultous real history of Afganistan. As when I read The Kite Runner, I felt as if I understood the history of Afganistan so much better than if I had read an article in Newsweek. By reading about what people went through day in and day out as first one political party took control and then another, I can tell you a lot more about what's going on over there right now.

Each political upheaval had its own horrors, but the description of life under the Taliban was especially hard to read. Women were not allowed to walk the streets without a male escort. Because of the intense poverty, Laila is forced to leave her daughter in an orphanage. She is only allowed to visit on the whim of Rasheed, when he will consent to accompany her. I kept waiting for these women to escape their brutal treatment, but how does a person escape when they can't even cross the street?

Although its been over a month since I actually read this book, it has stuck in my mind. It is quick. Thought-provoking. Well-written. Highly recommended.

Other reviews:
Blue Archipelago, Rhinoa, Dewey, Wendy, Out of the Blue, Maw Books, The Inside Cover, Thoughts of Joy, Florinda (Did I miss you? Let me know!)


Andi said...

I had a hard time getting into this one after I read The Kite Runner. Not sure why...if it was a mood thing or what. Alas, I set it aside, but great reviews like this one make me want to pick it up again.

Alice Teh said...

Great review, Kim. I have this in my TBR. I've enjoyed The Kite Runner tremendously while in Sydney and hope to continue with this one soon.

Florinda said...

I read this last year for my book club. I liked it, but for different reasons than The Kite Runner. My review is here.

Nymeth said...

I'm glad to hear you weren't disappointed. I'd like to try one of his books next year.

samantha.1020 said...

I have this one but haven't picked it up yet. I really enjoyed The Kite Runner but have been hesitant to read this one for whatever reason. Great review and now I'm more inclined to pick this one up :)

Melody said...

I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner! I've this book in my pile and I'm looking forward to reading it soon!

Stephanie said...

I've done the same thing - The Kite Runner was so good that I am a bit worried about the second one, although everyone seems to love it also!

Giulia said...

One of my roommates has both this and the Kite Runner, so my goal is to read both of them sometime this year.