Khaled Hoessini, author of New York Times Bestselling novel “The Kite Runner,” wrote another bestselling novel titled “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” The novel takes place in the overall same time period and environment: the Middle East during the 1900s.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” takes place almost entirely in Afghanistan before, during and then after Taliban rule.
In contrast to “The Kite Runner,” which explored a relationship between a father and son, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” illustrates relationships among women. From mother-daughter bonds to female friendships, this novel is an ode to the universal experiences of women.
The novel revolves around two female characters, Mariam and Laila, who had very different childhood experiences, yet both somehow end up in the same place, forming an unlikely and heartfelt friendship with one another.
The book is split up into four parts. Part one begins with Mariam’s childhood growing up as a “harami,” an Islamic word used in the book to describe a child conceived and born outside of marriage.
Despite her difficult and poor childhood, innocent and naive Mariam idolized her almost entirely absent father despite her mother’s dismay, who was unfairly blamed for her pregnancy.
“‘This is what it means to be a woman in this world,’ Mariam’s mother said to her. ‘Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a mans accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.’”
Mariam struggles with the indifferent relationships she has with her mother, Nana, and her father, Jalil.
“A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn’t like a mothers womb. It won’t bleed, it won’t stretch to make room for you,” her Nana said to her.
Mariam’s childhood, specifically her relationship with her father, is scattered with a foreshadowing of her life as a woman in Afghanistan, which in many ways mirrors her mother’s life experiences.
“‘Goddamn it, Mariam, don’t do this to me,’ he (Jalil) said as though he was the one whom something was being done.”
In part two, the second main character, Laila, is introduced beginning with her childhood, growing up with her mother, father and best friend Tariq.
As war infiltrates the country, Laila is ripped from her family, and then Laila and Mariam’s stories intertwine in part three.
The novel is one of the saddest I’ve read. As the storyline builds with disaster upon disaster, the reader as well as the characters can’t help but hold out hope, even if this hope is crushed repeatedly.
Despite being one of the most heartbreaking storylines, there are fleeting moments of beauty, love and connection that further builds the drastic level of empathy a reader will feel for these beloved characters.
“Mariam had never before been wanted like this. Love had never been declared to her so guilelessly, so unreservedly.”
Khaled delivers heartwarming lines like these as well as some of the most heartbreaking, such as “One last time, Mariam did as she was told,” at the end of part three, as the two characters’ stories disentangle from one another.
The story is one of intense foreshadowing and perfectly illustrates the cruel realizations of girls as they become women, and the mere burden of their existence, which is strikingly intense when illustrated in the setting of Afghanistan in the 1900s.
“She said this in a pragmatic, almost indifferent, tone, and Mariam understood that this was a woman far past outrage. Here was a woman, she thought, who understood that she was lucky to even be working, that there was always something, something else, that they could take away, Mariam thought.”
Khaled beautifully and perfectly illustrates the empathy of women, painfully detailed by inner thoughts of both of the women who are constantly beaten down emotionally and physically by men and a society in which simply existing as a woman is a danger.
“As she fought her way with impudent resolve to the front of the melee, Marian wished she had been a better daughter to Nana. She wished she’d understood then what she understood now about motherhood.”
This book is one that anyone with a mother, a sister or a daughter should read. Rather, anyone with a heartbeat should read this book.