The buzz around A Thousand Splendid Suns was incredible. Everyone raved about it -- and when that happens, I am suspicious. I loved The Kite Runner. Could Khaled Hosseini strike twice?
This time, Hosseini takes on a difficult voice: the voice of a woman. Multiple women, actually: of different ages, different backgrounds, different education levels, different regions. He does an excellent job. His voices, his characters are authentic, rich and vibrant. They are real.
The relationships are very real, too. Readers feel the anguish of a rejected daughter, a beloved daughter, a lonely daughter, an abandoned daughter, a frightened wife, a jealous wife, a supportive and loving mother, an anguished mother, a woman in love.
There are a number of women in this book, but two characters are central: Miriam and Laila. Miriam's youth is joyous but troubled. From the start, her angry, bitter mother tries to tell her the ways of the world for a harami like her. Her father visits every Thursday, and she feels special. Her world has been this way always: living in a small hut with her mother, her father living somewhere in town, on the other side of the creek. Her world is small and everything seems simple to her, as with any child. Too soon, she grows up and realizes that while her mother was troubled, she was not completely inaccurate about the world.
Leila is the daughter of an educated man and a lively, strong woman. Unfortunately, she arrives late in life when her mother has lost her sons to the army fighting the occupiers of her beloved Afghanistan and her father has lost his livelihood. However, she is smart and lively and she sees things in the world that make her love her country and her people, especially her family and Tariq, a childhood friend who from an early age is terribly important to her. When her family finally comes together in a beautiful and successful way, tragedy strikes with images that are as horrific as any a young girl should bear.
Both Miriam and Leila find themselves in heartbreaking situations, and both make the best choices they can under the circumstances. And both watch the world unfold at their doorstep.
This is what I loved most about this book: the personal viewpoint. Much like A Handmaid's Tale, the world presented in third-person narration is limited to the character's immediate experiences. There are situations in which they learn about the world around them, but for the most part, their world is their homes and families. Information is controlled by the totalitarian regime of their country and homes.
With his second book, Hosseini presents an Afghanistan that is rich and full, so much bigger than the nation this country ignored until 2001. As with any story, it is the characters that make it special and memorable, and Hosseini again creates characters that remain in the reader's heart and mind long after the final page is turned.
I strongly recommend readers purchase this book and read it, then share it. It is not an easy read, but it is a compelling read, memorable and beautiful, tragic and resonating. A Thousand Splendid Suns reminds us that a country is more than its politics: a country's heart truly is its people.