A Thousand Splendid Suns- a book review
Posted by The Inward Gaze
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”
These are the lines from my latest read “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, which basically sums up the entire idea conveyed by the writer through the novel. Written by the eminent novelist Mr. Khaled Hosseini the novel captures the plight and the life of Afghan nationals inside out. The author himself born in Kabul transfers the reader into that post and pre Taliban era Afghanistan, and the reader actually lives those moments. Like his previous novel this one is also set in Afghanistan, and captures the struggles of life beautifully.
The story is of two women named Mariam and Laila, who against all the odds and discriminations faced by women in the Taliban ruled era battle against the society and their own self. Mariam who is an illegitimate child of a wealthy businessman is an epitome of patience and signifies women who endure all the pain for the sake of happiness of others. Laila on the other hand portrays never say die attitude and struggles against the normal flow of life, she takes the society head on and is not afraid of the hypocrites or in this case Taliban, to have a life of her choice. The other character is Jalil who fathers Mariam; he is a weak man and has submitted to the customs and whims of the society, he is shy of accepting Mariam as his own daughter. He gives Mariam’s mother a house in a village named Gul-Daman to live in and even comes to meet Mariam, to play with her, hug her and tell her stories regularly but abstains from accepting her in public for the fear of losing his face and so called good name. The story takes a turn when Jalil after Mariam’s mother’s death is forced to marry Rasheed, a businessman from Kabul. This incident shatters Mariam who had always believed in her father. In her words while leaving she tells Jalil “I had always worshipped you, I thought about you all the time. I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me.” These were her last words to Jalil after which she leaves Herat and goes to Kabul, henceforth starts her struggles, the struggles that her deceased mother had always told her about, a new married life that will completely crush her soul and make her passive to every pain inflicted on her because no pain is more hurting than the pain of crushed dreams and lost faith.
Laila is born in Kabul and lives in Mariam’s neighborhood with her mother who longs to see her sons who are fighting for jihad against the Afghanistan ruling Soviets, thus devoiding Laila of the motherly love that she always craves for. Her father a teacher by profession is a man of high values and supports Laila at every step. He wants Laila to study and become something good in life. In the midst of all this the Mujahiddeens overthrow Soviets and impose restrictions on women and Afghanistan becomes a male dominated battleground on which various groups are fighting to take control of it, rocket firing and bombing become a common affair. Thus bloodshed ensues and forces many nationals to leave their country. Tragedy strikes when Laila and her family decide to leave Kabul and go to Pakistan along with the refugees. Sometimes while reading you wonder can a man be so indifferent to the other person’s feelings?
The essences of the novel are its characters, the connection which the author establishes between the life of Mariam and Laila is mesmerizing. It is as if two waves merging together to form a bigger, fiercer and stronger wave that hits the shore with a vengeance, and eagerness. The novel is one of those few which engage the reader right from the first page up to the last. The chain of events slowly begins to grow upon the reader and transcends him to the world of Afghanistan where “life” for women was confined to the walls of home and education for them meant knowing their names, where rapes, murders and incidences of marital violence were rampant. During the course of the novel the power shift in Afghanistan happens thrice, first from Soviets to Mujahiddeens then from Mujahiddeens to Taliban and in the end finally when America goes to War with Afghanistan. Every time the people pinned their hopes on the ruling party to ease its clutches on the society, they would see the bad become worst and the laws become more stringent.
The novel establishes a bridge between reality and fiction. Every character in the novel stands for the difficulties and atrocities faced by women. Call it a satire on the society or a commercial plain “good to read novel”, the novel by every standard touches your heart and makes you introspect and realize the fact that no matter how far science takes us, the basic feeling that builds up a human is love and it is this humanitarian feeling that we share differentiates and makes us what we are and the society that tries to overrule or forget this basic verity is bound to perish or pushed into the state of oblivion. This is a novel that will make you savor every word, every page and every feeling described in it and in the end still leaving you thoughtful and wanting for more. It leaves with a message that it is not the success, money or fame that the real fight is all about, it is the “Taliban” inside us that needs to be overpowered and overthrown.
Even if you are not an avid reader, read this novel for the entertainment it provides. And for the readers I would say this will be one of the best ever read by you. I end this review with the inspiring lines from the novel.
Joseph shall return to Canaan, grieve not,
Hovels shall turn to rose gardens, grieve not.
If a flood should arrive, to drown all that’s alive,
Noah is your guide in the typhoon’s eye, grieve not.