Artist note: Interview above is a fictional interview that I have created with one of the main characters of the book, Laila. This interview does contain spoilers so do not listen if you plan on reading the book!
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini is a beautifully crafted novel following the lives of two Afghan women through heartbreak, triumph and the challenges that they face within their culture.
Hosseini is an award-winning author; this book in particular spent four weeks as the #1 book in the nation, as well as being #1 on almost every national bestseller list including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and many more. This book also appeared on multiple end of year best-of lists, including the #1 Worldwide Bestselling title in 2008, Time- Ten Best Books: Fiction, Washington Post- Best Books of 2007 and more. Between “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and Hosseini’s first bestseller, “The Kite Runner”, more than 38 million copies have been sold worldwide.
This story is set in Afghanistan and begins in the mid-1900s, where you introduced to a teenage girl named Mariam, who lives with her mother. Through a series of heartbreaking events, Mariam finds herself stranded in a seemingly unfixable family situation, where her father decides to solve the problem by marrying her off to a middle-aged man whom she has never met before. However, since arranged marriage is a social norm in Afghanistan and women are given no power, Mariam must accept this new situation, no matter how alone she feels.
In the second piece of this story, readers are introduced to another girl named Laila, who has a pleasant family life and lives down the street from Mariam and her husband, Rasheed. Similar to Mariam, Laila is tossed into a situation of utter helplessness and family turmoil. Since the streets are unsafe and plagued with war, and since Laila is a women and has no rights to move to a new place, she is brought into the household of Mariam and Rasheed, where Rasheed marries her as well.
From this point in time, readers begin to see the relationship between Mariam and Laila unfold as wives of the same man. While they have a rocky start, their friendship soon grows deeply and in ways only possible in their situations. This friendship withstands lost loves returning, pregnancies, an extremely abusive husband and in the final test of friendship, the ultimate act of protection.
Throughout this entire novel, Hosseini makes a few themes extremely clear. The first major motif is the Afghan culture, which is unique, fascinating and heartbreaking at times and experienced through characters in the book. As readers are taken through the lives of these women, Hosseini paints pictures of weddings, the food, the country of Afghanistan, but mostly about the values of the culture, specifically the inequality of genders. He shows each of these themes throughout the story in invigorating ways using the stories of Laila and Mariam. The other major message explored is that of the bonds of friendship and family. From chapter one, Hosseini captivates readers with questioning of the value of relationships between relatives, acquaintances, spouses and even strangers; how far is one willing to go to protect someone they love?
There are countless ways that this book exceeded my expectations as an avid reader. I’ve always disliked books with either too much dialogue or too much description, but “A Thousand Splendid Suns” had a wonderful balance of both. Hosseini is creative and crafty in the ways that he uses description to speak on behalf of the characters, such as body language or a glimpse into the inner thoughts of characters, but also uses dialogue when words would be most effective. Also, if there’s one thing that I despise, it’s when authors add random plot twists which make no sense and do not benefit the story in the end. What was amazing about this book, however, was that the plot was unpredictable, yet the story made sense in the end.
There were no major things that I disliked about this book, but the ending did not particularly sit well with me. Throughout the entire novel, Hosseini does so well with letting the reader into the lives and relationships of all of the characters, and does so in a slow way so that you feel as though you have known them for a very very long time. However, at the end of the book, I feel as though it was rushed and the relationships were kept at a shallow level and did not display the depth that was shown previously in the book. While that may have been a literary choice by Hosseini, it was the one point that felt unsettling to me as a reader.
This can be a heavy book for some people due to the difficult topics and issues presented. Challenging situations presented include suicide, abortion and graphic scenes of domestic violence and brutality, which can only be handled with a certain level of maturity. Therefore, I do not suggest this book for younger readers, only those who feel like they are ready to read a novel that deal with these matters.
However, this book needs to be read. It is important. The themes are ones that are intertwined into the lives of every human, no matter how much they might notice them. While it works on a deeper level, this is also an marvelous piece of fiction writing with a captivating and enrapturing story, one that will leave readers wanting more.
And if you are one of those readers who want more, Hosseini recently released a new book, “And the Mountains Echoed”, which is next on my “to-read” list. Check it out here.
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. Published by Riverhead Books on May 22, 2007. 384 pages. Fiction novel.