“A Thousand Splendid Suns” tells the story of Mariam and Laila, two very different women, who have grown up in two different parts of Afghanistan. The story opens with Mariam, whose position as a harami (an illegitimate child) means she has to suffer the consequences of her parents and accept life in the margins of society. It was heart-wrenching to read about the young girl’s love for her father, and her naive conviction that society would accept her. Following a family tragedy fifteen year-old Mariam is quickly married off to Rasheed, a man old enough to be her father. After introducing us to the miserable state of affairs that will be Mariam’s life the book then jumps forward nine years, taking on Laila’s point of view.
Laila’s life is very much in contrast to that of Mariam’s. She grows up loved by family and friends, and importantly, and unlike Mariam, she grows up receiving education. For me, the best part about this novel was the relationship between the two women. It begins bitterly, but then blossoms into a strong friendship that acts as a source of comfort to both women. It’s an unlikely friendship that’s brought into fruition by their personal and historical environment. The devastation of war is the what throws the women into each other’s path.
Which leads me to my next point. This novel is chock full of historical facts, dates and events. I could appreciate that the author was trying to emphasize how large an influence history had in the lives of these women, and how hard it is to seamlessly weave the dates in to the storyline but at times it just felt a little too contrived. I was very aware of being fed all these historical facts. Having said that, they did add to my reading of the novel. The events, if not the dates, have stuck in my mind – the consequences of the Soviety invasion, and following that, the brutal and strict regime of the Taliban are clearly outlined.
This novel’s strung together with an underlying tragedy, and it’s present from the beginning to the end, sometimes portrayed a little too dramatically, and at others in very subtle and poignant ways that had me a little choked up. Ok, more than a little. Finishing it, I wasn’t really left with a feeling of satisfaction – I wanted something more, maybe Hosseini wound up the ending a little too quickly for my taste. I can’t quite figure out what it was, but it felt as if I should’ve been left with something more after having gone through all that tragedy and drama. That last line makes me sound like a cocky, ignorant kid. As a story about history, I can appreciate the harsh environment that is reality for many women. But as a novel, it didn’t leave me satisfied.
I thought I would include this design I found on the web. It’s not an original cover for a book; it’s been designed by someone out of interest I think, but it captures the center of the story (the connection between the two women) so effectively that I thought I’d post it here.
3/5 stars from me.