A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner was one of those books that everyone was reading – and deservedly. It is a wonderful book, epic is scope and clever in its structure. A Thousand Splendid Suns therefore has a very tough act to follow. Many people would have read it simply because of it’s predecessor.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a very different book to The Kite Runner. This book is about women for a start, and it has a shifting narrative. It is also a bit of an homage to Afghanistan in better times – the scene in the countryside with the Buddhas really is wonderful.

We start with Mariam, the illegitimate child of a local businessman in Herat, Afghanistan. When Mariam’s mother dies, she is married of to Rasheed, a much older man she has never met before, who takes her to live in Kabul. While we don’t expect any grand love story, initially we feel Rasheed may be kind towards Mariam, but her inability to carry a pregnancy to term brings out his innate brutality.

The narrative shifts time and perspective here. Laila, a neighbour of Mariam’s is left orphaned and decides to accept Rasheed’s marriage proposal to protect herself and a dangerous secret. Mariam initially resents Laila immensely, especially when she announces her pregnancy – the one thing Mariam wants more than anything but cannot have. But eventually, the two are brought together almost because of the brute they are both tied to. And as the situation in Afghanistan worsens, so too does the situation within their home. Rasheed exerts more and more power of the women, and Laila, the warrior fights back. Mariam, the carer is also eventually forced to fight to protect those she loves.

There is a devastating climax, but one that reinforces the power of real love and a woman’s ability to endure. It is quite a feminist text in many ways, really.

In making the inevitable comparison, readers would have to conclude that A Thousand Splendid Suns is not as good as The Kite Runner, although it is good. The relationship between the two women is wonderful, as is the “wake up” call you inevitably receive from reading such as text – it really makes you value the freedom of lifestyle we have. I do have a few small complaints though. I really enjoyed Part One with Mariam’s story, and never really felt like her voice came through as strongly in the rest of the text. It took me a while to relate to Laila because of this. Also, I could have done without the final few chapters in which everything is wrapped up a little too neatly. Sometimes, a bit if uncertainty in a bad situation is a more realistic ending.

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