Khaled Hosseini follows up the soul-tingling The Kite Runner with A Thousand Splendid Suns, a tale revolving around 2 Afghani women before, during and after the Soviet occupation.
The author does a stellar job of analyzing Afghanistan’s social fabric during a period of intense turmoil in Afghanistan. The Soviet occupation, the Mujahideen and the Taliban serve as catalysts for many major events in the characters’ lives, but these groups are not subjected to the same scrutiny as the Taliban were in The Kite Runner. Hosseini‘s passionate love for his country and the grief that he feels at its destruction come alive, in equal measure, when he describes places such as the Bamiyan Valley and its Giant Buddhas.
“It’s so quiet,” Laila breathed. She could see tiny sheep and horses but couldn’t hear their bleating and whinnying.
“It’s what I always remember about being up here,” Babi said. The silence. The peace of it. I wanted you to experience it. But I also wanted you to see your country’s heritage, children, to learn of its rich past. You se, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well you just have to see and feel.”
+++:First, the pluses. A complex plot holds together well throughout the book, one never spots cracks in the way characters develop and events occur. This in itself is quite an accomplishment for a work of such intricacy. More importanly, Hosseini conveys a sense that he ‘gets it’. It is worth reading the novel on this basis alone; you might even start believing in reincarnation, because God, does Hosseini understand women. He is able to give credence to their dreams and their pain in a manner I’ve never come across before.
The lighter moments in this book are fabulous, a man’s love for his wife is touchingly summed up in two lines:
Excerpt: She had this laugh. I swear it’s why I married her Laila, for that laugh. It bulldozed you. You stood no chance against it.”
That being said, this book is primarily about suffering. We are given more than an in-depth glance into what these women go through, we are made to live their metamorphosis from creatures of joy and hope into victims of dark cruelty and circumstance. One opportunity after another is wrenched away from them, one pleasure after another is seized, ruthlessly and efficiently. Every harsh word, every sneer, every kick, every cracked rib will resonate with the reader for an uncomfortably long time after the book is finished.
So does A Thousand Splendid Suns match up to Hosseini’s previous masterpiece? Not quite. And the reason is, this time, unlike in The Kite Runner, Hosseini has got the balance wrong. Pain is nothing without pleasure. Agony is not quite as powerful without ecstasy. Sobs of despair don’t strike the same chord in the reader if he/she has not exploded into raucous laughter with the character in better times. The protagonist Mariam is not endowed with this fine balance;there are moments of hope and of joy, but they are few and far between and not…not quite pure.
A lovely follow-up to The Kite Runner, but prepare to feel at least a little wanting at the end.