I really enjoy reading books about cultures different from my own (white, North American). Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns has been on my “to read” list for quite some time and now I’m asking myself why I didn’t read it sooner.
The story follows the lives of two different women, born 19 years apart to two very different families and how their lives become entwined through a series of events while living through Afghanistan’s tumultuous decades during the second half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Separated into four parts, each section tells an individual story. Part one focuses on Mariam, born in 1959 to one of Herat’s most successful businessmen and a maid. Due to being a product of an affair, Mariam grows up in a hut with her mother outside of a small village, only seeing her father once a week. After her mother’s death, her father and his three wives marry fifteen year old Mariam to a shoemaker from Kabul named Rasheed. Thirty years her senior, Mariam’s new husband takes her across the country and imposes strict rules on her and eventually becomes abusive. In part two, the reader watches Laila grow up in Kabul with her friend Tariq. Born in 1978 to educated parents, beautiful and intelligent Laila grows up during soviet rule in Afghanistan and enjoys more freedoms than Mariam ever did. However, when trouble arises and she is found alone after a missile strikes her parents’ house, she ends up having no choice but to become Rasheed’s second wife.
Part three begins with Mariam resenting Laila, but the two women eventually bond and protect one another from their husband’s abuse. The two women develop a mother-daughter relationship and Mariam becomes like a grandmother or an aunt to Laila’s children. By part four, Laila and Mariam have had to go their separate ways for safety and the narrative follow’s Laila’s new life, first in Pakistan where she fled with her children, and then back in Kabul where she returned after the fall of the Taliban.
The way Hosseini weaves the four stories together to create one cohesive narrative is really quite amazing. I loved reading about both women separately and their relationship together. I felt a strong bond with both characters and learned so much about Afghanistan’s history that I never knew before. The story-telling kept me turning pages long after I knew I needed to go to sleep. I absolutely could not put the book down.
If you enjoy reading books about different cultures, I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.