A few months ago, my husband and I were on our way to the West Coast when our flight got delayed due to a storm in Chicago. The battery on my phone was almost dead, so I headed to the small airport bookstore and picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns. The only thing I knew about the book was that it was written by Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner.
This historical fiction features the stories of two Afghan women and their struggles. Mariam, the illegitimate daaughter of a wealthy businessman, grows up in the outskirts of a city. Her mother attempts to warn her of the evils of the world and she tries to get her to resent her father for their poor living conditions. Eventually, Mariam’s father arranges for her to marry Rasheed, a man who is significantly older than Mariam. Mariam moves to Kabul with Rasheed and after she has a miscarriage, he begins to abuse her and resent her for her inability to give him a son.
In the second part of the book, we meet Laila, the daughter of a teacher with a more modern mentality. Laila’s family dreams of a Kabul where women are treated with respect and are given an opportunity to receive an education. The teenager falls in love with her neighbor, Tariq, but his family leaves Kabul as war destroys the city. Shortly after, Laila’s parents are killed by a rocket and she barely survives.
Rasheed and Mariam nurse Laila back to health. In the mean time, Rasheed begins to show an interest in the young girl, who agrees to marry him soon after she realizes she is pregnant with Tariq’s child and she learns of his supposed death. The young girl knows the marriage is necessary for her survival so she decides to keep her pregnancy a secret. A few weeks later, she tells Rasheed and Mariam that she is expecting Rasheed’s child. Mariam detests the young girl for the momentary affection she receives from their husband.
Many years later, Tariq, who was not dead, re-enters the story. As Rasheed discovers that Laila has been secretly seeing Tariq with the help of Mariam, the story becomes even more violent. The women must now find a way to protect themselves and the children. I hesitate to give you more details about what happens next, but the story definitely does not end here. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a complex story about friendship, love, survival, war, and hope.
This story was very difficult to read in many aspects. As a young wife, it’s difficult to imagine having to enter a marriage with a stranger and enduring the humiliation from a spouse who treats you as an object. It is equally heartbreaking to read how submissive the girls must become in order to simply survive. Through their marriage to Rasheed, one can see how Mariam’s and Laila’s personalities begin to change – how they become more passive, less prideful, and more immune to Rasheed’s constant dehumanization.
In spite of all of this, it is surprising to witness the birth of the friendship between women with very little in common. One had a sad childhood with limited access to her father while the other had a happy childhood with a loving family. One was forced into a marriage, the other consciously chose to enter into it. One was unable to give birth to a child despite her desire for the purest form of love, the other did not plan to have children but did. Eventually, these two characters develop a loving mother-daughter relationship and a friendship that many of us rarely get to experience. The women unselfishly watch out for one another and together they seek to see the best in the worst of conditions.
Total pages: 415 FOA pages: 7,459 (Total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)