Monday, July 28, 2008

What I read: "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini

I have yet to read "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. It's on my reading list. I've almost bought it at Starbucks a few times. I look for it at the library, but it seems to be too popular to stay on the shelf, and there's always something else on my list.

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" wasn't on my list, but when I went to look -- once again -- for "The Kite Runner," several copies of this book sat on the shelf. I picked it up, thinking I'd give Hosseini a chance with his second book.

I'm really glad I did. "A Thousand Splendid Suns" is one of the most heart-wrenching books I've read in a long time. It was almost painful to read at times, yet I found myself unable to put it down. The two main characters -- Mariam and Laila -- are so compelling, so tragic, but still so courageous and filled with hope even in the face of hopelessness, I couldn't wait to see what happened to them. And then I didn't want it to end.

Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union to the horrors of civil wars and the Taliban, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" manages to be filled with both hope and despair, beauty and horror. Anyone who has ever believed they wouldn't tolerate the kind of treatment Afghan women endure will come to see that they would tolerate it. Both Mariam and Laila have little choice as to whether they will put up with being beaten, being told when and where they can go out, wearing a burqa or being given away in marriage to a man more than twice their age or marrying a man who already has a wife. In Laila's case, her husband is old enough to be her grandfather. But circumstances don't really allow these women another option.

Despite the raids, the bombings, the beatings, the women experience moments of pure splendor:

"Outside mockingbirds were singing blithely, and once in a while, when the songsters took flight, Mariam could see their wings catching the phosphorescent blue of moonlight beaming through the clouds. And though her throat was parched with thirst and her feet burned with pins and needles, it was a long time before Mariam gently freed her finger from the baby's grip and got up."

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, but moved to the United States in 1980. Still, he manages to capture what I can only imagine it must be like to be a woman in Afghanistan. Despite the struggles, the losses, the absolute terror of living in a worn-torn land, life -- somehow -- goes on. They still love and find beauty in their country and each other.