Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

a_thousand_splendid_sunsA Thousand Splendid Suns is another remarkable story from Khaled Hosseini.  Like the Kite Runner, this book is set against the backdrop of turbulent times in Afghanistan, but unlike Hosseini’s first novel, ATSS focuses on female relationships; about love and loss and endurance, making it a superb choice for a book club.  

I’m going to try to summarize the book without giving the whole story away, but if you plan to read this anytime soon, you might want to stop here and skip to the last couple paragraphs.

The two main female characters are Mariam and Laila.  The novel begins when Mariam, a harami (illegitimate child), is 15 years old.   After her mother’s suicide she goes to live with her wealthy father, his 3 wives and their 10 children.  Soon she is married off to Rasheed, a much older man. 

Mariam can’t catch a break.  First her mother kills herself, then she’s treated as a second class citizen by her own father, then she’s married off to an old, abusive man who doesn’t allow her to have friends, talk to people, or show her face in public, and who beats her on a regular basis because she is unable to give him a son.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Laila, a smart and stunning young girl born to one of Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbors shortly after they marry, grows up and falls in love with her childhood friend, Tariq.  When the political situation in Kabul starts heating up, his parents decide it’s time to move to Pakistan.  He begs Laila to come, but she stays behind with her parents.  They have a quick “indiscretion” before he goes, shocking each other with its intensity.  After Tariq’s departure, Laila’s parents decide they, too, should leave Kabul.  As they are packing up, a bomb hits their house, destroying their home, killing her parents and badly injuring Laila. 

Rasheed and Mariam take 14 year old Laila in.  Mariam nurses her back to health.  Soon the disgusting Rasheed decides he’d like to have Laila as his 2nd wife.  Learning Tariq has been killed, Laila, harboring a secret, agrees to marry the old man.  In my head, I was screaming, NO!  He’ll hurt you!  But it was the only way for her to survive after losing everyone she had to count on.  Women had no freedoms, weren’t allowed to work, travel without a male chaperone, etc.  How would she support herself?  So they marry, and then Laila has the audacity to give birth to a female child.  Rasheed loses whatever kind feelings he had for her at that point. But then the two wives, after some initial tension, form an unbreakable, familial bond that will endure huge challenges and obstacles.  

Spanning almost three decades, from about 1975 until just a few years ago, there are a lot of historical events happening throughout the story.  The political unrest worsens as the Taliban take over and women are more oppressed than ever.  I felt huge empathy for these women and their lack of freedom and basic rights.  I related to their maternal sides, their protectiveness toward Laila’s children and toward each other.  

I loved this book.  As brutal and intense as some of it was (particularly in Rasheed’s final scene), it spoke to me on a deep emotional level.  I cared about these characters.  I desperately wanted things to work out for them.  I’m no expert on Afghanistan history or culture, but it’s possible that the portrayal of some of the characters was a bit stereotypical (actually, that would be my only criticism of the book-it’s beautifully written).    

Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant storyteller.  If you love a good story that isn’t all sunshine and roses, this might be the book for you.  It’s number one on my list of Favorite Reads of 2008!  

Reading Group discussion questions can be found HERE.

Khaled Hosseini’s website is HERE.

20 Responses

  1. I want to read this one, but I want to read my copy of The Kite Runner first.

  2. Hey Kathy, just FYI- there’s no need at all to read them in order, although I think Hosseini’s writing matures a bit in his 2nd novel. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Great review. Makes me want to read the book right this minute. Definitely adding this one to my list.

  4. This was a good book. It’s terribly sad to read how women are still living in other countries in this day and time.

  5. I still haven’t read The Kite Runner. I want to, I have it. Just haven’t gotten around to it. And I wanted to read that one before this one. Sounds good though.

  6. I must get to his books!

  7. I just loved this. And wasn’t crazy about The Kite Runner, but this sounded so good, and I’m glad I tried this author a second time.

  8. Glad to see I am not the only one who hasn’t read Kite Runner or this one!

  9. I’m glad to read your review. I’ve had this book ever since I finished The Kite Runner, but I’ve been worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. It sounds like it will be as meaningful as I hope it will be.

  10. This book is on my shelves, waiting for me to crack it open. You’ve inspired me to do so quickly!!!

    Have a great week!

  11. A Thousand Splendid Suns was one of my favorite books this year.
    I agree, Hosseini is a fantastic storyteller.

  12. I loved this book too. I really can’t wait to see what Khaled Hosseini writes next, although the expectations for that will be even more ridiculous than I had for this one!

  13. I’m just about positive that I’ll read this one day.

  14. Isn’t it interesting that Khaled Hosseini’s first novel focused on relationships between men, and *A Thousand Splendid Suns* focused on women. I think this one hit me even harder than *The Kite Runner*

    Thanks for a great review, Lisa.

  15. I read Kite Runner, but I have not read this one. I cannot wait to read it. Thanks for sharing your views.

  16. I listened to this on tape in the car with my husband. I wonder if he ruined it for me? We mutually decided to stop the tapes. It was either that or drive into a tree to make them stop. I’m going to give it a try with regular old reading, because you’re my book guru.

  17. Loved, loved this book. I really hope he’s working on a new novel. He’s a great storyteller.

  18. I too LOVED The Kite Runner and even have this book in hardcover which my Mom purchased for me when it was first released. I haven’t picked it up yet but probably should push it up my TBR list.

  19. I just finished this book and it was wonderful. I can’t wait for him to write another book!

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