By Khaled Hosseini.
This is the second of Hosseini’s books I have read and reviewed and it tells of the suffering of two women under the Taliban regime’s rule in Afghanistan. My first Hosseini book, The Kite Runner, I read for the book group to which I belong, after which I had said that I probably would not read another, however a personal recommendation by a friend who had read it persuaded me to try this too.
Hosseini’s tales are not nice comfortable, easy reads. He often handles topics that we in our sheltered, sanitised western world know little about and in some instances would prefer it to remain so, yet he deals with those same topics in a way that restrains you from putting down the book.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two Afghan women who are born a generation apart and who each become the most important part of the other’s life, united by a common bond that in the end becomes a tragedy for one and, in a sense, for both of them too. In a way, it might almost be a tragedy in the shakespearean sense, where the event is unavoidable resulting from the flaw in the protagonists own character. I found the growth of the bond between these too women predictable within the story and yet with Hosseini’s storytelling ability this was easily forgivable, in no way detracting from their story.
Hosseini tells us of an Afghanistan of which we have little knowledge and less understanding, such as the time a woman needed hospital treatment but a Taliban guard insisted it was a male only hospital and sent the woman away at gunpoint. He tells us of the various warring factions in the country of which we know little. Most of us know of the Taliban from news reports and the Mujahideen will be remembered by older readers of this review but how many of us also knew of the hostility between ethnic factions, like the Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkmen.
Hosseini handles some sensitive subjects in his book carefully but without sugar coating them, so they do not lose their power to affect the reader’s emotions. He tells us through example of the shame still brought on an afghan family by an illegitimate child and the length some people will go to to ‘wash away the stain’ on the family’s honour.
The Daily Telegraph said of A Thousand Splendid Suns that it was “epic”, on which I must disagree. Epic to me suggests length, not necessarily quality. I can however agree Mariella Frostrup’s remark that it is “A masterful story”. Hosseini is a fine storyteller who is prepared to handle sensitively subjects a good few others would struggle to deal with, without reducing the power of the narrative.
“she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back.
She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother.”