A Thousand Splendid Suns

posted in Books on Jun 12, 2007

Again, I find myself struggling to understand how I come across such good novels to read. I haven’t read many books in the last two years that I didn’t really like, and this one, like Snow, reads so well that before you know it, it’s over.

This is Khaled Housseini’s second novel, and like The Kite Runner, its setting is in Afghanistan during tumultuous times. A Thousand Splendid Suns follows two Afghan women through their lives in a country that, for lack of better words, fails to provide its people with much stability to fall back on. No one person or group of people have power in the country for any long stretch of time, creating a shifting political landscape that can one day provide hope with the next instilling hardened fear. It’s a world that we, as uppity Americans, will probably never see in our lifetimes.

And that’s no false truth. Reading this novel will depress you. We really don’t know how great we have it. I don’t want to get into any political hoopajoo, but we all know our government blows, and we complain about these things. But really what do we have to complain about? If you’re reading this then you’re probably safe and sound in a heated house or apartment; I the same. In terms of simple living standards, most of us have nothing to fear. It’s hard for us to visualize such suffering in other nations. One thing that I pulled from both this novel and The Kite Runner was that sense of fear that these people lived with daily. But yet they did/do live. Though bombs go off around them, they find the strength to get up every morning. Of course, this novel is a work of fiction. The main characters and some places were made up; I get that. But I can’t imagine that what happens in this novel is any stretch of the truth.

What I find interesting about reading about Afghanistan as it was in the 70s, before rival factions of peoples started tearing the country apart in the 80s, was that, largely, it was fairly analogous to how we are. It may not have been as “modern” as we like to think of ourselves, but the people went to work and school. They lived as normally as I could ever imagine myself to live. It’s interesting to think of when we hear about this country on the news, it’s always of the horrors that go on there. And I understand that now – currently – yes the instability runs around that country like a child around a maypole. But, for me, I never thought of the people I’d see on the screen: the faceless women in burqas walking down a street or the men in trousers and torn t-shirts. The idea that each of them were individuals with their own thoughts and values never crossed my mind. The only thing I would ever think was about how “those idiots over there are blowing each other up.” That may sound callous, and it is, but that’s all we get to see. I never thought about how these people are just as educated as the rest of the world, just as human. That may be just the haughty American in me talking, but luckily I’m slowly learning how to suppress those ideals. A great knowledge I gained from reading this book was that these people are not to be pitied. It’s not their fault the people in charge over there have been horrible people to their countrymen, or, more recently, that we have bombed the shit out of their country. They just happen to have to live in this world of guns and rockets, and any one of them (save for the idiots who are actually killing their countrymen) is incredibly strong for living in a place such as that.

But back to the novel: the writing, like Snow, doesn’t pull any punches. You’ll be face to face with what is going on, no matter how shocking the subject matter. So be prepared to read passages you may not enjoy; they’re not all sunshines and rainbows, kids. I can’t recommend this book or Housseini’s first novel any higher. I hope they get into the hands of as many people as possible. Luckily, The Kite Runner was extremely popular, so I have no fear that this novel will be equally as welcomed, as it should.