A Thousand Splendid Suns was the second book I read by Khaled Hosseini – the first being the best selling Kiterunner.
Despite only having written a few books Hosseini is one of my absolute favourite authors: he writes so beautifully and realistically that you are transported completely to the places he takes you to, no matter how alien. He also delivers unflinchingly real characters, no matter if they are good or evil, beautiful or vile, they will make you feel.
Synopsis: “A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to the post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.
Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love—a stunning accomplishment.”
I found this a thought-provoking book on two counts: the setting in Afghanistan, over a number of years and ever-changing environment; and the female characters at the centre of the story.
Like many people, my knowledge of Afghanistan’s history is limited to what I’ve seen on TV over the past decade and odd elements prior to that with with Soviet invasion and British before that. This book brings the world to life – just as The Kiterunner did – the people that live there, how they live, what is different to my life and sometimes surprisingly, what is the same. A world that you think you know, is brought to life, more completely and realistically through the characters you meet.
Where The Kiterunner is a story about one man’s life and (mainly) the men around him – Splendid Suns is about a female experience: a young girl growing up in a family with academic parents (both of them), and how that changes as the country moves from one regime to another. I was struck over and over again by this book at the depth and variety female relationships can take – the hardships they can endure and how they find strength to protect the very dearest things they possess. The ‘wives’ story at the centre of the narrative is heart-breaking, and the bond they share through their similar experiences is something that I would never have imagined, but also found completely believable. There is a ‘love story’ entwined through the other narratives of the book – but the indestructible love of the blurb is that of family, motherhood and sisterhood, rather than romantic. The honesty of feeling throughout the story, both good and bad, is so clear that I believe few would read this book and not find it thought-provoking. It challenges you – possibly as a ‘western’ reader, to review what you believe about the place you see on the TV – and it certainly sent me out to read more about the history and environment of the book I had enjoyed so much.