A Thousand Splendid Suns
The love, the innocence, the sacrifice. The Khaled Hosseini book we won’t forget for a long long time.
“She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up into the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women like us suffer, she’d said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.”
Arguably the best work of Khaled Hosseini, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ stands out, maybe a trifle ahead of The Kite Runner because of its open embrace of women’s grievances and the effortless ease with which it translates the pain and agony into that of its readers.
The story begins with Mariam. She is a harami, an illegitimate child, as she is introduced in the first chapter. It is the word people use to describe her; the word she first hears at the age of five. Her closest friend is Mullah Faizullah, who shares with her the basic lessons of spirituality. At the age of thirteen, after the unfortunate demise of her mother, Mariam is married away by her wealthy father Jalil to forty year old Rasheed, where her life as she knows it ends and a new one begins.
Laila is fourteen years old when circumstances force her to marry Rasheed and share the household with Mariam. What becomes of their awkward and confusing relationship is what drives the story forward.
Hosseini tells a tale of suffering and survival through the lives of Mariam and Laila, winding through the harsh times their nation is forced to go through. He has traced out the time period of Afghanistan from 1959, the year Mariam was born, to the year 2003 in a smooth timeline of a series of unfortunate events.
These are tumultuous times when the power lust of the Mujahideen ends up in bloodshed. In due course of time, they take even more terrifying proportions as Afghanistan is taken over by the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Mariam and Laila have their lives entwined in a common thread of domestic violence, disappointment and pain. To them, the only source of happiness is the time they spend without their authoritarian male counterpart, when they can have tea and chat endlessly out in the backyard on starry nights.
The relationship that Laila’s kids share with Mariam is heart-warming. When Amina bows westward in prayer, the presence of Mariam and her comforting shade of love is evident. In life and in death.
The book offers a fair share of happiness in the midst of misery. The children, the reunion of a lost love, Mullah Faizullah’s last words for Mariam, Jalil’s change of heart; there are small things to be grateful for, although the mere thought of Mariam never fails to make me cry my eyes out.
The innocence, the love, the sacrifice. All coming in a time when Kalashnikovs do more talking than human beings.