Twenty-eighth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.
I had once asked Tame SheWolf why she doesn’t like to read Khaled Hosseini and she had said that it had caused her too much pain when she read The Kite Runner. So much, in fact, that she decided never to read Khaled Hosseini again.
I was profoundly affected by The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini even became one of my favorite authors. And though it left me sad, it didn’t destroy me. It told me the story of life affected by war and strife; and this wasn’t some war that had happened hundreds of years ago. It was a recent war, perhaps an ongoing war. And it gave me glimpses of life in a foreign land that is so very near to my own country, yet so vastly different from it! I yearned to go there and experience life in Kabul, but I had to remind myself that it was now just a place that crowded the memories of those who had once lived under its skies.
But more than the war, the story of The Kite Runner was about the complicated nature of human relationships, of friendship, freedom, gratitude, hope, love, betrayal, hardship and sorrow. Really, I could write down a list of human emotions and experiences and you will find that nearly all of them can be found among the pages of that book. That is why I loved The Kite Runner.
As the successor to The Kite Runner, which was the story of two boys (later, men), A Thousand Splendid Suns is also a story about two people, albeit women. However, this is not primarily their story. It is the story of the Afghan war and its aftermath through the eyes of these two women.
Their stories are heart-rending tales of deep sorrow and unimaginable hardship and misfortune. The opening line itself is an indicator – Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami. This sets the tone for the incredibly harrowing life of Mariam, an unwanted and unloved illegitimate accident – a harami.
Within the first 50 pages, you come across the first gut-wrenching incident of the story. And you hope that there will be salvation and that things will get better, but you know that they won’t. But like someone who has their hopes pinned on a hopeless fantasy, you keep reading. But things only get worse for Mariam as Afghanistan goes from Communist to Mujahideen.
Then you meet Laila, full of life and full of promise and you realize that even she will have to suffer because her life too begins with a tragedy – that of having a mother who doesn’t care for her. But you hope that things will get better for her, trying to ignore the backdrop of ceaseless conflict, against which she is being raised.
And soon enough, the worst that you expected, happens. But by now, you’re prepared for it and you feel that you’re inured to all the tragedy and sorrow. But you’re not. You never will be. You wonder about the strength that these women must possess, and countless others like them.. to have their dreams shattered and trampled upon and crushed and sabotaged. Only to dare to dream again and to hope.
And yet, just like in the real world, it is because of the audacity of their dreams that this story too, finds closure. In the end, they might not have got the lives that they dreamed of, but it is a happy one, looking back at all that Mariam and Laila got through to get there.
The story of Afghanistan deserves to be told. The story of how this land of poetry, song and cultural heritage got transformed into a bottomless pit of hell. And especially the story of its women; strong women, women of unbelievable strength of character and fortitude of will, who somehow survived through all of that and still persevere to build their lives in the shadow of Kalashnikovs and drones.
Khaled Hosseini set out to tell this story to the world and he does a phenomenal job of it.