Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Book Review: Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is the second, much-awaited novel by the author of The Kite Runner. Longer and covering an even longer span of time in the history of Afghanistan, this book is different in the first instance from The Kite Runner due to the fact that it is written from the viewpoint of women. Where the semi-autobiographic Kite Runner is dominated by its male characters, in contrast this novel carries us through the last 40 years of upheaval in Kabul via Mariam and Laila.

Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of the richest man in Herat and a reclusive epileptic mother who grows up in an isolated valley outside of the city. The loss of her mother means marriage to a much older man and moving to exciting, vibrant Kabul. What follows is the story of the struggles and sacrifices of a woman who buys into the traditional thinking of what an Afgahani woman should endure.

Twenty years later we see the arrival of beautiful, spirited Laila in their lives amongst a backdrop of civil war, loss and poverty. Her entrance awakens Mariam to another way of being and thinking. Although Laila is less submissive and more ambitious than Mariam, the women find each other friends and allies.

The novel takes us through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, civil war amongst the War Lords and the arrival and departure of the Taliban. Sweeping themes and a worthy history lesson. But the thing that bought this book to life for me was the unlikely detail: the way “Titanic-fever” takes hold of Kabul, the strange terminally ill red-haired Mullah at the end, the description of the Bhumian Bhudda's

One of my few criticisms would be in the creation of Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. Whereas the male characters in Kite Runner were more complex, Rasheed feels a little one-dimensional at times. Although the story is from the point of view of the women, you would still hope to gain insight into why Rasheed behaves in the way that he does. Instead you get a ready-made violent, abusive, slimy husband with the predictable outcome that you can see the walloping coming every time. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the characterisation of Rasheed is the way his son pines for him.

As with the Kite Runner and Saira Shah’s The Storyteller's Daughter, religious people in this book are generally of the mad, bad Mullah type. The exception is the gentle old Mullah Faizullah who is kind but whose brand of faith (read Quran, have faith, pray etc) is portrayed as ineffectual and not really an answer to anything – Mariam prays and suffers in equal measure.

The book is still an absorbing read though and in the end, what stays with you is the pain of Mariam’s sacrifice. Her choice is haunting and hangs over the rest of the book and over whatever else Laila does. It also stays with you after you have finished this book.

Book Review: Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter

Book Review: ├ůsne Seierstad - The Bookseller of Kabul

7 comments:

  1. Assalam Alaikum,

    I am enjoying your blog for quiet a while now, MashAllah. I cried through a box of Kleenex reading this book :-) Here's another recommendation - Tahir Shah's "The Caliph's House" and the follow-up "In Arabian Nights"

    Salaam
    Umm Nassim

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  2. Assalam-alaikam Sister Umm Nassim,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
    Thanks for the reccommendation too, I'm going to have a look for it.

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  3. salam, thanks for this sis.. it is a book stored away and on my reading list.. maybe Ill bring it further forward :P i loved kiterunner, ill let ya know how it goes insha'allah

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  4. The books are great...especially if you are an aspiring writer, the art of story telling will capture you in "In Arabian Nights"...no need for Kleenex!

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  5. Assalam-alaikam,
    Sister Ammena, I think you'd enjoy A Thousand Splendid Suns. I read the Kite Runner a while ago and really enjoyed it. My better half read the (heavily censored) Urdu serialised version in the Urdu papers and liked it too.

    Sister Umm Nassim,
    I am a bit of a closet aspiring writer so will look for the books you mentioned insh'Allah, jazakh'Allah-khairun for the tip.

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  6. Fashionista19 June, 2008

    Hey, seeing as u asked me to comment on this book, im glad to do so.

    I really enjoyed this book!! (am currently reading lots of aghanistani style books..) this is one the books that goes on my top reading list, very emotional, i preferred 'a thousand splendid suns'to 'the kiterunner' possibly because a woman's aspect of misery/turmoil always seems more harsh. (if thats makes sense)

    anyway wnt go on, overall great read, thanks for recommending it to me! :O)

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  7. As-salaamu'alaykum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu my dearest sister,

    I finally read this book! (Still haven't read Kite Runner though) - I know, a little behind on things.

    "The book is still an absorbing read though and in the end, what stays with you is the pain of Mariam’s sacrifice." I totally agree, couldn't have said it better.

    Jazaki'Allahu khair for sharing.

    Insha'Allah I'll start Kite Runner soon.

    Wa'alaykum as-salaam
    Love Farhana

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