6. A Thousand Splendid Suns

Finally! A real page turner! A honest to goodness, book-you-can’t-put-down. This novel has honestly made me think so deeply about so many things. It was really enjoyable, it has been an easy read and it’s really absorbed my thoughts. It’s been welcome relief to find a page turner in this Reading Challenge and honestly I couldn’t put it down.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I was recommended this novel by a friend and found my copy in a charity shop. I am an avid believer that homeless books are like treasure when you find the titles you’re after so honestly. I was actually enjoying this novel so much that I bought the Kite Runner when I spotted it in a charity shop. I might point out also that it may have taken me ten days to finish, but in that time I’ve actually sat down to read this book maybe four times. One of those sessions was a three hour train journey where I swallowed a mighty 150pages in one sitting. This novel is a page turner and I found it very difficult to leave it alone.

The story follows Mariam, an illegitimate child, who faces hardship and struggle through her life. Set in Afghanistan the novel offers a bleak look at womanhood and the treatment of women. But it also explores the relationships between women and the lengths they go to over come hardship.

‘Nana said, “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.” – A Thousand Splendid Suns, pg 7

From the onset Mariam has a difficult life, her mother seems borderline abusive to her daughter and everyone around her. Seeking to isolate Mariam from the rest of the world and education and her father. Desperate for his approval Mariam runs away from home for a day and a night and when she is returned finds her mother dead. Her father, shamed by her illegitimacy is pressured by his wives to find Mariam a husband and a quick marriage far away.

Rasheed, Mariam’s husband, is the main perpetrator of violence is a prominent feature within the novel and a voice of extremist views and violence against women. He is not the only man within the novel, there are other male characters that provide a healthy balance to this and it was a relief. It was a difficult line to toe, but Hosseini provided extremist views beside views that are closer to western ideologies. The novel, particularly the narrative wouldn’t have been as successful, if it demonised all of the men in the Middle East and also I believe it would’ve been a gross misrepresentation.

Mariam is treated bitterly within the majority of the novel. It is only when Laila looses her family in the turbulent country that Mariam’s life seems a little easier. Laila, after a quick courtship becomes Rasheed’s second wife, most of all to protect herself and her childhood sweetheart’s unborn child. The relationship between Mariam and Laila is bitter at first, but it sweetens over time, the two women having nothing else in the face of the violence of Rasheed. Its a more complicated narrative than I’ve sketched out for you, but honestly it is very satisfying. Its easy to follow and at times twists and surprises and is worth sticking to the end. 

The novel also acts as both a fictional narrative and also a historical telling over thirty years or so. It really revealed to me just how little of the history of the Middle East I truly knew or understood. My conceptions of Afghanistan were pretty warped, but this novel has certainly inspired me to develop new understanding. If anything this novel really reminded me that humanity is both behind and the subject of the violence. Something that was a little sickening.

This novel is one that has certainly made me think. I think I may stray from my Reading Challenge for a few weeks, as I haven’t decided what to read next and I have a lot to digest.



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