Monday, December 14, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, reviewed by Sharmada Sivaram

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Reviewed by
Name: Sharmada Sivaram (16 years)
School: Carmel Convent School, New Delhi

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is Author Khaled Hosseini's second novel. Khaled Hosseini is an American novelist and physician originally from Afghanistan. The book follows the story of two native women of Afghanistan-Mariam and Laila, whose lives are entwined. Their heartrending story is set against a background of the main events in Afghanistan's history over the past three decades, from the Soviet invasion to the US-led War against Taliban.

The plot is intricately laid out and has multifaceted themes. It is a journey of oppression and hope, of sacrifice, of endurance, of love. The story explores the deep bond shared by the protagonists, captures the plight of women-their struggle to be in control of their lives.

Mariam is an illegitimate child of a rich movie theater owner, Jalil, and grows up in a hut outside of the city of Herat with her mother. After her mother commits suicide, her father marries her off at the age of fifteen to a much older, troubled and bitter shoe maker Rasheed. Rasheed treats Mariam with ill-disguised repugnance, subjecting her to scorn and ridicule. This attitude of his toward her deepens once it is apparent that she cannot bear him a child.

Laila, the novel's other heroine, is raised to appreciate education and to dream to fulfill her potential. When a rocket lands on her house and kills her parents, her life is shattered. Her boyfriend Tariq has already left Kabul with his family. She is an orphan with no friends or resources. Laila is then taken in by Mariam and Rasheed. When she discovers that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child and learns that Tariq has supposedly died from injuries sustained in a rocket attack, she agrees to marry Rasheed, convinced that she and her baby will never survive alone in Kabul.

Initially, Mariam eyes Laila as her enemy, charging her of stealing her husband. But the birth of Laila's daughter Aziza leads Mariam to soften and the two form a tie as strong as as those between a mother and daughter, finding consolation in each other. The bond they share is so simple, so natural. They become allies and shield each other from Rasheed's rages.

When Laila and Mariam plan to run away with Aziza, the plan goes futile. They are faced with Rasheed's bitter revenge. Later, Laila reunites with Tariq and leaves with him to Pakistan, along with her children Aziza and Zalmai. Mariam kills Rasheed with a shovel, confesses and is executed.

The tale is most certainly gripping. Hosseini makes Afghanistan's history and culture quite engaging. It gives us a deep insight to life in a part of this world that is primarily associated with terror and conflict. What makes it more real is that these specific historical events did in fact take place. The characters are complex and can be drawn from life. There were women who led this life, who endured such agony. While the subjects of the novel are complex and heavy, reading Hosseini's novel is simple and easy enough. The down side is that it isn't a happy book. Melancholia looms through most part, although hope is a companion. The novel does bring out the uncomfortable and agonizing truth outright. The narrative pertaining to the anguishing experience under Taliban's rule brings out the suffering the women, especially, go through. Although the events seem painful, the author makes them readable. Personally, the story went straight to my heart, being a woman. It sensitizes those who have only ever heard of the ongoings in Afghanistan on news bulletins, to the suffering of an entire nation.

In the end, it is another story of day-to-day life. Yet, it is different, stirring. It reaches out to you and makes you believe that, there is, after all, hope.

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