September 12, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Who is Khaled Hosseini? If you ask most Cornell Students this question, you’ll probably receive blank stares in reply. Or perhaps, “The name sounds familiar…maybe he sat next to me in Calc.” However, try: “Have you heard of The Kite Runner?” In this case you might hear about the internationally bestselling book and soon to be released movie (November 2, 2007 for those of you wondering). If, like a lot of people, you were staring vacantly after the first question, Khaled Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner.
But that’s not the book I want to talk about.
It’s his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which undeniably establishes Hosseini not simply as “the guy who wrote The Kite Runner” (or perhaps “the guy who wrote the book they based the movie on”) but as an independent and noteworthy modern author.
Told in four parts, A Thousand Splendid Suns seamlessly weaves the story of two strong women against the vivid backdrop of Afganistan’s modern history. Hosseini’s compelling narrative rhythm draws the reader into the lives of his characters. Although the protagonists, Mariam and Laila, come from different generations, backgrounds, and lifestyles, the brutality of war unexpectedly brings them together. Mariam is an illegitimate child who grows up shamed and shunned by her birth. When her family falls apart, Mariam’s father marries her to Rasheed, a shopkeeper in the distant city of Kabul. There Mariam endures a solitary struggle to bear the marital pressures of producing a boy and placating her demanding husband until Laila enters the household. Laila, born fifteen years after Mariam, is the beautiful and privileged daughter of an academic. Before an incomprehensible tragedy, Laila expects to attend University and “become someone.” Together Laila and Mariam struggle against their abusive husband and country. They are denied medical care, asylum, and freedom, but they persist. The bond the women gradually forge is a testament to human capacity for forgiveness and resilience. In the face of discrimination, deprivation, and betrayal their companionship deepens to a mutual dependency and love that boldly contrasts their hardships.
Hosseini’s style is clear, engaging, and poetic. Although the novel spans more than three decades, he maintains the cadence of his writing. The transitions, with a few exceptions, are smooth. At points the narration skips months or years, but Hosseini fills the gaps through conversation, allusion, and memory. He skillfully blends a political and historical awareness into his work, capturing the instability from the reign of the Soviet Union to the invasion of the Taliban. The storyline occasionally becomes melodramatic, yet readers still receive a glimpse of daily life for women that most of the world sees only cloaked by burqas. Hosseini captures suffering juxtaposed with his characters’ enduring hope and inspiring strength.