Fiction

A Thousand Splendid Suns | Book Review

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

About the Author:

Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. In 1970 Hosseini and his family moved to Iran where his father worked for the Embassy of Afghanistan in Tehran. In 1973 Hosseini’s family returned to Kabul.

In 1976, when Hosseini was 11 years old, Hosseini’s father obtained a job in Paris, France, and moved the family there. They were unable to return to Afghanistan because of the Saur Revolution in which the PDPA communist party seized power through a bloody coup in April 1978. Instead, a year after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in 1980 they sought political asylum in the United States and made their residence in San Jose, California.

Hosseini graduated from Independence High School in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, where he earned his M.D. in 1993. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 1996. He practised medicine for over ten years, until a year and a half after the release of The Kite Runner.

Hosseini is currently a Goodwill Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through the Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The concept for the foundation was inspired by the trip to Afghanistan that Hosseini made in 2007 with UNHCR. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Roya, and their two children, Harris and Farah.
(source: Goodreads)

Synopsis & Genre:

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry the troubled and bitter Rasheed, who is thirty years her senior. Nearly two decades later, in a climate of growing unrest, tragedy strikes fifteen-year-old Laila, who must leave her home and join Mariam's unhappy household. Laila and Mariam are to find consolation in each other, their friendship to grow as deep as the bond between sisters, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter.

With the passing of time comes Taliban rule over Afghanistan, the streets of Kabul loud with the sound of gunfire and bombs, life a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear, the women's endurance tested beyond their worst imaginings. Yet love can move people to act in unexpected ways, lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism. In the end it is love that triumphs over death and destruction.

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is a portrait of a wounded country and a story of family and friendship, of an unforgiving time, an unlikely bond, and an indestructible love.
(source: Goodreads)

Fiction
Historical Fiction
Contemporary
Historical
Novels
War
Classics, Drama 
(source: Goodreads)

My Thoughts:

“A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed. It won’t stretch to make room for you.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book that will always linger in the form of a thought, an emotion or simply a tear. It was outrageously enraging, tender-hearted, delicately painful and thrilling at times.

Set in Afghanistan from the 1960s to the 1990s, this book goes beyond a work of fiction – it’s a tale of human endurance coupled with the historical context that gives every time action a meaning and at its core – a story of love, sacrifice and humanity. Beginning with Mariam’s story, Hosseini sets the context emphasising on cultural significance, traditional norms and what society deems unacceptable, starting with Mariam being described as a Haremi indicating the circumstances of her birth and her and her mother’s current status as near outlaws.

Mariam is painted as a naive, tender-hearted young girl yet to know the ways of the world and her mother as an exhausted, sad, betrayed but a tough woman who loves her daughter fiercely.

“Look at me, Mariam.’
Reluctantly, Mariam did.
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.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

There’s so much clarity in this book, such rich descriptions that pierce your heart and conscience but it’s all written so very beautifully with subtle undertones and a certain melancholic aura. I think the beauty of Hossein’s writing lies at the root of originality – he doesn’t just write from his imagination or historical inspirations; he writes because of that history, and he takes pride in portraying Afghanistan not in what one would consider ideal but with all its imperfections – authentic, raw, enraging and heartfelt.

Mariam as a character was painful to read about. She’s been fleshed out so well, there were times I just felt so uncomfortable because it felt like I was talking to a friend who was going through all that she did. She’s been given a past, a present and a future – not so distinct but it’s there and it builds her character through so many phases; naive, hopeful, tired, hopeful and finally content. It’s not a happy ending but Mariam’s motherly affections towards the end depict why the saddest occurrence can contribute to happiness.

“Though there had been moments of beauty in it, Mariam knew that life for most part has been unkind to her. But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

This book wasn’t all about Mariam, although I felt it revolved around her. Laila, her parents, Rasheed, Tariq and even the children, Aziza and Zalmai have been given distinctive personalities it was a joy to get to know them better. Out of all the books, I have read so far (which isn’t many but I digress), I find Hosseini to be the absolute best in writing transitions from child to adult to old age. There’s something so real and subtly obvious about how he writes the transition into being that makes you look back on your own journey.

I loved having a strong character like Laila and adored the addition of her father, a man who knew the value of education in times such as those. Apart from gross patriarchy, and domestic and sexual abuse, Hosseini touches upon so many aspects of human lives including but not limited to suicide, grief, child marriage, PTSD, the horrifying impact of war on children and families, society and more.

You can be anything you want Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated Laila. No chance.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

It’s also often rare for me to find imperfect characters or characters that feel real to me, like someone I have no trouble believing exists and Mariam and Laila were those characters. They were real, complex, authentic and perfectly flawed. And the inclusion of different types of men, was also imperative to a book such as this – so deeply rooted in culture, that it depicts how abusive husbands weren’t the norm but the result of choices. Tariq, Laila’s dad and more interestingly – Jalil and Rasheed all breathe life into this definitive aspect.

I read many reviews mentioning the inclusion of Afghanistan’s history being out of place, but I personally enjoyed it very much. I’m probably biased, as I’m a History fan in general but in the book’s context, I found the history and casual dialogues really setting the tone and atmosphere, shedding light on the story that I was falling into.

“And that, …is the story of our country, one invasion after another…Macedonians. Saddanians. Arabs. Mongols. Now the Soviets. But we’re like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

I admit I found the pacing to be a bit haphazard – it started out slow, then it reached the perfect peak and then it dwindled and rushed to the end. And there were certain parts that felt a tad drawn-out but apart from the pacing, I found the story to be well developed, reasonably fleshed out and diverse characters, historically accurate and so very true at the core. The rise of the Taliban, in particular, has been written into being, capturing the true extent of the horrors imposed on human lives, especially that of women.

“I’m sorry,” Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

I’d rate this book a 3.5/4 overall! This is a gorgeous book that delves deep into human emotions, gauging what constitutes love, sacrifice and commitment while shedding light on the horrifying history of Afghanistan by speaking through the lives of two Afghani women – so different yet so similar.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Behind every trial and sorrow that He makes us shoulder, God has a reason.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns


Previously on Random Specific Thoughts (my creative writing blog):
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7 thoughts on “A Thousand Splendid Suns | Book Review

  1. I read this book years ago and loved it, I think it was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog. The story is so touching and it shows how two women from very different walks of life can end up in a similar situation. It also shows how we must rely on one another to survive. I love Hosseini’s writing and I would recommend “The Kite Runner” if you haven’t already read it.

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  2. I enjoyed The Kite Runner and have been meaning to pick up this one as well. It doesn’t sound perfect, but absolutely worth the time. For me it is crucial to have realistic characters in a novel (i.e. complex and flawed) so it is good to hear the author got that right. Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope you like it! Conversely, I’ve yet to read The Kite Runner, haha! I’ve heard so much about it and look forward to checking it out.
      I agree – there were times this book wasn’t anything special but then it was remarkable too, I think basing the book so deeply in culture is what made it good?
      I personally thought he did – Mariam and Laila were very interesting characters.
      Thanks so much! I hope you like the book!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We’ll be reading this in english (hopefully soon!) and you’re making me even more eager to delve into this world! Love how you described how “it builds her character through so many phases; naive, hopeful, tired, hopeful and finally content”…that sounds like a character arc I can get behind. Wonderful review as always, Deepthy!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooh sounds absolutely brilliant! I imagine it’d be so much more fun to actually learn about the book rather than just read it.
      I personally think it was more of a change in the book’s atmosphere rather than a character arc, but Miriam certainly demonstrates growth throughout!
      Thank you so much, Eleanor!
      I hope you’ve been well and you enjoy the book!

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