Global Context (Afghanistan): A Thousand Splendid Suns
Reviewed by: Bruce Riley Ashford
This series of posts deals with the global context in its historical, social, cultural, political, economic, demographic, and religious dimensions in particular. We will provide book notices, book reviews, and brief essays on these topics. We hope that you will find this series helpful as you live and bear witness in a complex and increasingly hyper-connected world.
Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is a splendid follow-up to his first novel The Kite Runner which has sold almost 5 million copies worldwide. Whereas the first story dealt with the lives of two young boys, the second gives the story of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila. The majority of the story takes place in Kabul, while moments of the story occur in Herat, Afghanistan and Murree, Pakistan.
Mariam is the illegitimate child of a wealthy man in Herat who keeps her at arms length. She struggles to understand why she cannot be like her father’s other children, and desperately wants her father’s attention. When she disgraces her father by visiting him in Herat, she returns home to find that her mother has committed suicide. As a result, Mariam’s father gives her in marriage to the much older Rasheed who takes her to Kabul. In the ensuing narrative, Mariam learns to cook and clean for her husband, wear a burqa, endure constant beatings and abusive sex, and deal with the pain of multiple miscarriages.
Eventually, Rasheed marries again, this time to Laila, who was raised in a good home with loving parents in Kabul. The ensuing narrative deals with the developing relationship of these two women who are married to the same man. The novel gives a colorful, and often sad, portrayal of Afghan society and culture, dealing with such themes as war, poverty, sexual abuse, and murder. Like The Kite Runner, it is an emotionally arresting book, as Hosseini’s well-crafted characters deal with the realities of turn-of-the-century Afghan life.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is recommended for its significance (1) as a well-written work of literature, (2) as a realistic and masterful portrayal of aspects of Afghan history and culture, spanning from the Soviet occupancy up until the recent post-Taliban era, and (3) as a reminder that there are countless thousands of women like Mariam and Laila, and men like Rasheed, who live mind-numbingly painful lives, and who have little or no access to the gospel.
Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Region: Central Asia
Length: 372 pp.