“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazars, 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.”
This verse by a 17th century Iranian poet fittingly summarises the premise of Hosseini’s novel, which I had the privilege of reading last year. It narrates a story that is eye-openingly dark, heartbreaking and shattering, yet is suffused with beacons of humanity, sacrifice and endurance.
The novel, set primarily in Kabul, traverses over a time period of forty five years, part of which includes the Soviet invasion of Kabul and the subsequent rise of the Taliban. Hosseini never glosses over the brutality or the violence that the women face, but instead deals with it with straightforward, unflinching honesty.
The story begins with Mariam, a ‘harami’, or an illegitimate child who lives with her bitter and despondent mother on the outskirts of Herat, a city in Afghanistan. Her charming father Jalil, a rich man who owns the cinema in the city, visits her every Thursday. These visits are the highlight of Mariam’s every week. One Thursday, when Jalil fails to visit her and take her to watch a movie, like he had promised, she goes to the city in search of his house, where Jalil refuses to meet her. When she returns home the next day, she finds that her mother has committing suicide out of the fear that her daughter abandoned her.
Now helpless, she turns to Jalil, who unfeelingly marries her off to a man thirty years older than her, Rasheed, who lives in Kabul. At first, the man treats her well. However, as time passes by and Mariam is found to be unable to provide Rasheed with a child, having miscarried several times, things change for the worse.
As in most societies that regard women as nothing but baby-making machines, she turns into a burden for Rasheed, who heavily abuses her. The plight of this woman is heartbreaking; she is trapped in a marriage with a man whose past has turned him into nothing short of a monster.
It is then that Laila, a vivacious young girl, enters the storyline. In stark contrast to Mariam, she lives in a fairly well-to-do household and has a father who believes in educating her. It is at this point that we receive information about the Soviet invasion, with Laila’s brothers in the Mujahideen. There is also a subplot where Laila is involved with a local boy, Tariq.
When the war is at its peak, Kabul is bombed and every single member of Laila’s family is killed, except herself. And by an inexplicable twist of fate, Laila finds herself marrying Rasheed, upon learning that Tariq is dead, for Rasheed is eager to get himself a wife who may bear him a child.
As the plot progresses, the initial dislike that Mariam and Laila have for each other forges into a bond of love and respect. It is two women against the patriarchy, not in a world-changing sense, but in the sense of the small things that we tend to think of as privileges. They are trodden upon, pushed to the ground— as those men believe women should be.
However, there is a power that shines through this heartbreaking story— a story reflective of the lives of million of Afghani women. There is something so raw and intense in the human essence that shines through every single page of this novel that makes this such an extraordinary read.
Hosseini’s engaging style, eloquent in its simplicity, coupled with the harrowing truths that the narrative exposes are truly what make A Thousand Splendid Suns an absolute masterpiece.
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It’s been a long time since I published a post here, as per usual
However, this will be changing soon because I’m going to be posting once a week in every Sunday! I’m going to be posting not only articles but also book reviews and long form poetry here.
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