“One could not count the moons the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”

 

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

This is a story of two women in Afghanistan, Mariam who grew up in Hirat and Laila who grew up in Kabul. They had a completely different life growing up. They grow up in a different time, Mariam was born in 1958 and Laila was born in 1978. When their lives get connected it changes for both of them, forever. The story follows through history of Afghanistan from the 1950s to 2000 with the stories of these two women during those times.

If “Kite Runner” was about boys growing up in Afghanistan, this is about the women in Afghanistan. The protagonists of the book are women and the author had done great job writing from a women’s perspective, total 415 pages.

I have read two books in a row that follows the same time period first one from India, second from Afghanistan..

The story begins in a small hut beyond the outskirts of the town of Hirat. The girl’s name was Mariam, she calls her mom Nana. She was brought up by her mom until she turns 15.She was an illegitimate daughter of a rich businessman, Jalil Khan, who already has three wives and nine children. Her mom was a cook in his house and falls to a disgrace when she bears Mariam, due to the societal pressure her father builds them a house away from the town beyond a running stream. He visits Mariam and her mother religiously every Thursday of the week, Mariam worships her father and hopes one day he would  include them in his family and could live in the same house as him and his other wives and children. She finds her mom very spiteful and one day against her mom’s wish she goes into Hirat to meet her father at his house. She was not allowed in his house and she stays outside overnight and that was when she realizes that what her mom told her all these years were true. That she was not welcome. When she returns to the home where mom lives a deeply impacting incident happens so she was taken back to live in her father’s house where her life change’s forever.

Jalil Khan, father of Mariam was a very nice character. He tries to be good man but he is controlled by his status in the society and his family his actions have advert consequences in Mariam’s life. He later towards the end realizes how all those status for the society did not matter. He sends a video tape of the cartoon Pinocchio that Mariam longed to see in his theater and she never had that chance then.  When I read that part, I had tears in my eyes.

Rasheed Mariam’s husband was the actual villain in the book. Afghans with patriarchal societies they hold woman in the family in a pedestal at the same time they do not give them voice, no authority, no independence and treat them more like a third rate citizen. That was what this Rasheed Character exactly does. He was a product of the society, I pity that character.

Then Laila’s father who was a teacher that wanted women to study, get educated and hold office. At one point he even says when the communist ruled Afghanistan that was the best time for women in Afghanistan where they encouraged all girls should go to school and colleges.

The main characters did not have say on their life’s decisions; When Mariam got married to a man some 25 years older to her. The women cannot even step outside the house without a male relative. Women could not go to school. Taliban separated the hospitals for male patients and female patients. The hospital for female patients does not have basic medical supply to do a surgery. No anesthesia, no post surgery antibiotics, they write this on prescription where patient families has to run to other part of the town and still would not get it, with the country under the control of Taliban. When Laila had to deliver her breached baby they had to do a C Section without anesthesia. This was true, this was happening in Afghanistan, the author was part of UNHCR and he had heard from many doctor’s during his visit to Afghanistan where they have said many horror stories of how they had to do amputation without anesthesia.

My favorite part of the book was when Laila’s father takes Laila and Tariq on a day trip to Bamiyan valley to show them the Buddha statues, the culture, heritage of Afghanistan that existed before it was all bombed by the Talibans. I have read about these Buddha statues in “I am Malala” I think the world lost something precious when Taliban bombed those Buddha statues.

I also like the part that the author have walked a very fine line, he does not condemn that women had to wear burka because women already have adjusted to wearing burka and he focused on bigger issues, that matters most like education for women and children, food, safe living space for women and children, giving children a safe environment to grow up.

I highly recommend all women to read this book.

If you want to learn the recent history of Afghanistan with a story weaved in it, read this one, you will not be disappointed.

 

Reviewed by:

Kam VJ

Added 3rd April 2016

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Kam VJ

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

I read this book and while I was reading it, it tore out my heart, threw it on the floor and stamped all over it. I’m not sure I will ever be the same again, this book has completely destroyed me, so obviously I think that all of you should read it too!

After reading The Kite Runner last year, I ordered Housseini’s other two books and have just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns.

I wasn’t really expecting the second novel to live up to The Kite Runner (how could anything?), but I have to say that I was proved wrong and I actually thing that A Thousand Splendid Suns is even better!

The moment I started A Thousand Splendid Suns I instantly felt an affiliation with Mariam, the main character in this richly written, beautiful and haunting  tale.

The book starts in Afghanistan in the early 60s, and if you’re interested in history, then the political backdrop as the book takes you through many years of Mariam’s life, is likely to be as interesting to you as the story.  It’s a great mix of realist fiction set within actual events that draws you in until you feel as though you are right there, drinking chai on the porch.

The minute you start reading you’re involved in Mariam’s story, and  felt quite aggrieved when the story switched to another story, Laila’s story, but as you might expect eventually all the stories combine and you’re left with a beautiful, haunting tale.

I’ve stayed up until the early hours two nights running this week because I just could not put it down! An absolutely brilliant tale, expertly woven, beautifully written, heartbreakingly portrayed. I can see why everyone was so enthusiastic about A Thousand Splendid Suns and can’t wait to read more from the author.

 

Reviewed by:

Kath Cross

Added 24th January 2016

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Kath Cross

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

The book portrays Afghanistan and the status of women in Afghan society through the life of Mariam. The tragedies that  she endures, the difficulties, the gender-based violence that she suffers, the discrimination, the being barred from active life during the Taliban, having her life restricted and controlled by her husband are lucidly expressed.

“Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always”, is the advice Mariam’s mother gives her, from bitter the experience of her own life she hopes that her daughter would not have to face. There is a turn of events as Laila is forced into her life.  The relation of mother and daughter they share, not being related by blood, but by turn of fate.

It talks about how harsh life can be and how unpredictable.  How it lets you dare to dream one moment and brutally shatters it at the very next.  It rips away from you everything that you have leaving you in helplessness and despair.

It tests your strength and you learn to live with pain accepting it as a way of life.  At extreme times it lets you surprise yourself with your strength that you did not know you had.  It makes you use up every ounce of your energy.  One succumbs to the merciless situations and is rendered helpless.

All through history there have been wars and battles, but how would it be living through that battle!  Life in itself is a battle and you have to strive through that battle on an everyday basis.  Children grow up learning early about the adversities life has to offer.  The innocence of childhood is lost in that stray bullet that kills a parent or in a bomb dropped bringing down a home to dust.  People try to find normality and peace while there are missiles flying over their heads.  It is bad! Not lost my phone, or a broken-knee kind of bad, but a bomb went off and lost a loved one, and hopes blown apart, kind of bad.

“The muezzin’s call for namaz rang out, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west and prayed.  Then the rugs were folded, the guns were loaded, and the mountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at the mountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched helpless…”

Then one day flowers blossom in the garden of your life and bring ultimate joy.  It makes you forget all your pain as if that entire struggle, howsoever unfair, was probably worth it.  Amidst all the havoc of hatred and revenge, there is tranquillity in the love of a stranger who suddenly becomes a part of your life and means the world.  There is comfort in loyal and protective friendship.

“Perhaps this is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be undone”, writes Mariam’s father in his last letter.  Looking back into his yester years only to find a sack of could’ve-would’ve-should’ves, he realizes that he can but only lament for what is broken and lost.

On an entirety, the book was an intense read.  It strikes a nerve in your conscience and compels you to think.  It is the story combining instances of humanity and of the want of it.  It contains stretches of bad with a touch of goodness in it.  It is also a reminder of how blessed most of us are who can live in peace.

“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.”

 

Reviewed by:

Nivedita Baliga

Added 7th July 2015

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