I was a bit hesitant to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, if only because I knew it would break my heart like “The Kite Runner” did. And I was so right.
Hosseini just knows how to tell a story in a beautiful way, and in this multi-generational novel, filled with friendship, chosen families, all set in Afghanistan during a very turbulent and violent time, he does just that. This book starts out with the story of Mariam, a girl who is born out of wedlock who is hidden away with her mother out of view of society in Herat, Afghanistan.
We follow Mariam as she grows up with her mother and then as she marries a shoemaker and moves to Kabul. In Kabul we follow Laila, a young girl whose family is very close knit and who emphasize the importance of education for her future. Mariam and Laila are of two different generations but still experience the same events in very similar ways. As women, they have a limited say on what they want to do with their lives and I definitely felt the helplessness as they try to fight but ultimately accept their destiny. Eventually, their lives become interconnected and their relationship becomes an anchor for the both of them in the midst of the violence all around them.
I love stories that encompass a person’s whole life and I especially love those that are multi-generational. There’s the added bonus that these are women’s stories from a part of the world that’s very much outside of my general perspective. There’s also a wonderful diversity within Afghanistan of languages, cultures, and general ways of life. It really opened my eyes to that diversity and the contrast between the two areas in Afghanistan that are featured.
Mariam and Laila are wonderful characters who grow, learn, and really change throughout the book. They are not alone though! Their parents, partners, friends, and children all also have interesting arcs throughout the book. They are forced to react and adapt to the events that are happening around them that are completely out of their control. While Mariam and Laila are both wonderful characters, one of my other favorites was Laila’s dad, Hakim. Hakim is a teacher, lover of books, a romantic, and truly dear to my heart. At one point when they have to leave their house and sell everything, he is faced with the prospect of choosing which books he must leave behind. Him pacing his library making those decisions was a scene that I cherished a lot.
Overall, this is a brilliant book that I will be thinking about for a long time and which I’m very glad was chosen for our book club this month. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes multi-generational stories filled with complex and wonderful characters. I would warn, however, that there is a lot of violence in this book, including physical and mental abuse. If you are interested do check it out, it’s a great book, beautifully written, and full of powerful perspectives.