Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read. There is no happy ending, whenever there is hope it is quickly destroyed. It details in a very vivid way how war ravages entire communities and changes life for the worst. It also highlights how existing inequalities are exacerbated by war. Although the main theme is war, it describes just how much women go through because they don’t have any power.
The books main characters, Mariam and Laila although a generation apart find themselves ripped away from their families and married to the same man Rasheed. The beginning of the book introduces Mariam and just as we begin to understand her story, the focus of the book shifts to Laila. This mimics how Mariam shadows Laila up to death.
The books centers in great detail the experiences of women. Even though the men are not the main characters, their actions have a great impact on the lives of the women in the book. Laila lives in the shadow of her brothers & is only able to go to school because her father insists. She forms a strong friendship with her neighbor Tariq. Mariam loses her childhood because her father is unable to step up and claim her as his child and she loses her life because Rasheed chooses to be abusive. Rasheed’s son dies in part because of his negligence. The actions of the men in this book have wide reaching consequences, beyond their own lives.
“Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.”
The experiences of motherhood are portrayed in many different ways. Be it Mariam’s abusive mother or her own role as a mother to Laila and her children. Motherhood is a totally different experience for Laila’s mother who loses her two most precious sons in the war causing her to become depressed and miss out on her daughters life. Rasheed punishes Laila for being a devoted mother and she goes to great lengths to ensure her children are fed and well.
The struggle of being a woman is portrayed by all of the woman in the book. From the doctor who has to operate in a burqa without anesthetic to Mariam’s mother who has to live, quite literally, as an outcast. Even in childhood, little Aziza has to take second place to her brother Zalmai. Women’s rights changes as power changes hands in Afghanistan and in the course of this book, it does so a number of times and each time, women lose more and more rights, even healthcare.
Each time there is an opportunity for freedom, it is taken away by the powers that be. A rocket orphans Laila just after her family decides to leave war torn Kabul. When Mariam’s mother dies, an opportunity arrives for her to lead a new life in the custody of her father but he chooses to marry her off instead. This leaves both women in the hands of the abusive Rasheed where they experience untold suffering and misery. Mariam is born out of wedlock to a rich man who marries her off as soon as her mother dies. She carries this “harami” label and struggles to see herself outside of it. When Laila and Mariam try to escape from Rasheed, a man sells them out and they have to return to the abusive home. Rasheed forces Laila to send her daughter Aziza to an orphanage where she experiences untold suffering that she is still recovering from even years after the fact. What was meant to be a safe haven from an abusive home and hunger becomes a house of horrors for Aziza.
Even when childhood friends Tariq and Laila return to Kabul years later, it cannot be described as a happy ending because they have experienced so much pain and loss. The same applies for Afghanistan, as the rebuilding takes place, the country has suffered incalculable loss. The war has ended and there is so much work to be done — work requiring everyone and this is displayed by Tariq & Mariam’s work at the orphanage.
This book forces one to reflect and consider the lives of those living in war torn regions.