A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, 2007
I’m not a weeper when it comes to literature, but I have to say, this really had me crying. Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan writer, is primed in the art of the story-teller. His literary style is one which illuminates the senses, expands the mind and thoroughly immerses you in the turmoil faced by women in Afghanistan on a domestic and political level. In his writing, he achieves the balance between the apparent and subtle and develops a theme which news reporters could only hope to partially expose. Hosseini linguistically paints both a personality and a face for each of the women whose lives are affected by the harsh conditions in his brutally realistic depiction of Afghanistan.
We in the West are often faced with an overwhelming element of mystique and fear when thinking about Afghanistan. The culture presented is uncomfortably foreign to Western perspectives; however, Hosseini skillfully integrates us into the culture and customs by introducing the character of Mariam, the tragic character who is born into the world illegitimate or a ‘harami’. Hosseini wonderfully accustoms readers to the Afghan language, Farsi, including a variety of the country’s dialects and ethnicities. We see Mariam growing up unaware that she is an outsider and a shame to her father. We then observe her as she discovers the ugly truth about her birth and realises that she is not a respected nor accepted member of society. We witness the injustice she endures and are moved by her extreme longing for love.
The beginning is a little slow and not entirely in keeping with the blurb (not that we should judge a book by its cover), but it becomes obvious later why so much time is spent focusing on Mariam’s childhood. Leila, in contrast, is from a less tragic background. She is the privileged daughter of a university professor who has great ambitions for her. Her life is devastated as a result of Afghanistan’s political unrest. These two characters, who live in seemingly different worlds, meet in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
The book made me uncomfortable, yet sympathetic and aware that many women in Afghanistan today are living lives like the ones Hosseini describes in his novel. Hosseini puts a face to the figures. When one of the characters dies in a roadside bomb, we know that this happens in Afghanistan regularly. We are able to handle statistics as humans with detachment; however, we ultimately need literary or dramatic guidance to appreciate the full extent of the issue. Hosseini has brilliantly produced an empathetic aid to bring awareness to key issues that lie deep-rooted in Afghanistan’s scarred cultural and political past.