A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini

Well this is a very angry making book!  I’m not sure why I picked it up exactly but I whizzed through it super fast (for me anyway) and then spent my days at work completely distracted, worrying about the characters.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This book is set in Afghanistan, from the 1980’s to early 2000’s and an amazing number of changes happen in that, relatively, short space of time.  Another book to make me realise that I have no idea what’s going on in the world.  It’s also quite hard to get your head around the fact that this stuff happened within my lifetime, and yet a lot of it seems so medieval.

Mariam was born out of wedlock and her very presence represents a sinful act, bringing shame on her father and his three wives.  She lives in a cabin in the woods, with her mother who constantly reminds her of her illegitimacy.  At the age of 15 she is married off to a man in his 40’s that she has never met, and he takes her to Kabul. Burkas are, obviously, a personal subject but in the book, it is Rasheed (Mariam’s husband) who insists she wears one in public as her face is only for her husband.  Something that seems less convincing when Mariam finds her pornography collection (not just their faces showing!)

Rasheed wants a son, and Mariam is not able to have children, so he takes his frustration out on her for 17 years.   It’s hard to give a plot synopsis without giving loads of spoilers, sorry.  The book moves on to 14 year old Laila, a promising student who was born on the night of the revolution.  Her brothers are away fighting against the communists, being killed shortly before their withdrawal.  Afghanistan remains torn by civil war, and Laila’s friends are killed or flee to Pakistan, and her parents are killed when a bomb hits their house.  This leaves 14 year old Laila alone in a dangerous world, and she ends up agreeing to become Rasheed’s second wife.

It’s really gross and horrible.  And that’s before the Taliban arrive…

But it becomes a story of friendship between Mariam and Laila that endures through unbelievable hardship.  To be honest, I almost found Rasheed too awful to believe.  The violence and misery was too much and started to detract slightly from the wider story.  Surely, Rasheed was not just a monster but rather a product of his environment.  After, the Taliban take over the hospitals stop treating women.  There is one women’s hospital without enough doctors, medicine, or electricity.

The problem for Mariam and Laila is not so much Rasheed but that there is no where for them to go in this Afghanistan.  Under the Taliban, women were not able to go outside without a male relative.  It would have been interesting to know how other families coped with what was happening.  But the focus on this family meant I really invested in them.

It’s a really interesting and horrible read, and I recommend.

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