It is not often that stories move us and redefine how our perceptions of life, but that’s the kind of story Khaled has crafted in this masterpiece.
‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is a story set in Kabul, Afghanistan and looks into the life of Mariam, a young girl who lives with her mentally unfit mother before she passes on. Her father then marries her off and the story is set in motion.
Her husband, Rasheed, is a staunch Afghan man who believes women (especially wives), should always be clad in burqas when outside and should not speak in front of men. Rasheed is at first excited about Mariam until it seems that Mariam cannot bear children, which then makes him hostile and abusive.
We are then introduced to Rasheed and Mariam’s neighbours, Fariba and Hakim who are liberal in their approach to life and raise their children in the same light. Their daughter, Laila, in particular, is liberal, ambitious and very intelligent; she also has a boyfriend, Tariq who often takes her to the cinema and to visit historical sites.
Here, Khaled illustrates the complexities of these two characters and how different their worldviews are. At this time, Afghanistan is in political turmoil as the Soviets are about to be ousted by the ‘mujahideen’ and that is when tragedy strikes.
There are airstrikes all over Kabul that are destroying houses and ending lives, and the same tragedy befalls Laila leaving her orphaned and homeless. As Rasheed is going through the rubble, he rescues Laila, taking her to the hospital and eventually allowing her to recuperate in his home.
Mariam takes care of Laila and all is peachy until Rasheed declares that he wants to make Laila his second wife. Mariam not only feels betrayed but after Rasheed goes through with the ‘wedding’, she is cruel to Laila. Rasheed is also intimidated by Laila’s bravery and thus begins his cruelty to her as well. His abuse seems to be mitigated when Laila gives birth but Rasheed soon falls back to his old, familiar traits when she questions his authority.
In the face of a common abuser, the women slowly grow into a friendship and thus directs the next few years of their lives.
Throughout the book, there is more political unrest, violence, attempted escapes but most importantly love. Love illustrated in the different relationships characters have with each other and themselves.
This book will pull at the strings of your heart. Khaled writes the book in a comfortable pace thus telling the story elaborately but not too slow to bore you. He examines the human condition, celebrates womanhood and triumphs virtue over vice in the end. I guarantee that you will not be able to put this book down until you are through with it.
This book is the second novel from the author following the success of his debut ‘The Kite Runner’ and is equally, if not more, impressive. The title of the book is derived from a poem about Kabul by the poet Saib Tabrizi.
Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls
Book Review: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson.