Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (Literary Fiction)

Firstly, I apologize for annotating the same book as Heather. I had desperately wanted to read Khaled Hosseini’s first bestseller The Kite Runner, but none of the three libraries I checked had it, much to my frustration. By the time she posted her annotation, I had already chosen this as my alternative and has already started reading it. I haven’t read her annotation yet in the hopes that mine is based solely on my own reading experiences.

Of all the genres, literary fiction is by far the one I read most often. I’ve always valued character over plot, although I think that engaging the emotions is just as important as engaging the mind. Also, the English major in me can’t help but be critical of an author’s writing style, so I gravitate toward literary fiction because I know I will be able to appreciate the writing and the themes explored. Likewise, the cynic in me has little patience for light-hearted material—I personally much prefer to read about serious issues and to be challenged by universal dilemmas.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women of two different generations whose only connection initially is that they share their husband. The older wife is Mariam, born as the illegitimate child of her wealthy father Jalil and raised by her bitter, unwed mother in a tiny country house. When her mother dies, fifteen-year-old Mariam is all but sold to Rasheed, a portly shoemaker several years her senior. Laila, the younger wife, is contrastingly raised in a loving family in the bustling city of Kabul. Her brothers are killed in combat, and she becomes an orphan at age fourteen after one of the Taliban’s raids on Kabul. Laila is then taken in by her neighbor Rasheed, who is still unhappily married to the childless Mariam. He persuades Laila to become his second wife, and her youth and beauty, as well as her ability to bear him children, earns her Rasheed’s adoration and Mariam’s contempt.

However, it isn’t long before Laila also falls out of favor with their husband, starting with her unforgivable act of bearing him a daughter instead of a son. Rasheed reveals his true nature, and Mariam and Laila are both victims of his physical and mental abuse. Contempt and jealousy between the two women eventually give way to their shared sorrow and compassion, and the two form a bond that enables them to survive the violence inflicted on them by the war and by their husband.

A Thousand Splendid Suns has everything I typically look for in literary fiction. Hosseini’s prose is not particularly experimental in language or style; it is rather simple and accessible to readers of most ages and backgrounds. Yet he demonstrates eloquence throughout, especially in his descriptions of the landscape of today’s Afghanistan and the cultural practices of the people. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book are the details of daily life, depicted in both peaceful times and the days of turmoil that soon pervade the country when it is taken over by the Taliban.

Hosseini successfully establishes a strong emotional connection between the reader and his two female protagonists—so successfully, in fact, that if this book was written by a woman, I would not hesitate to classify it in the Women’s Lives and Relationships genre. As a female myself, Hosseini definitely moved me to reconsider my own trivial problems and to be thankful for the many privileges I have by merely being born in the United States. This book allows readers a glimpse into the lives of these suffering yet admirable women who live for nothing but each other and their children, and who are willing to sacrifice everything for their loved ones.

I would highly recommend this book to those who, like me, enjoy reading and learning about other cultures through the lens of a fictional yet realistic and structured plot with highly engaging characters. Hosseini confronts some of the most devastating realities faced by the Afghan people on a daily basis, focusing on the injustices committed against women regarding issues of marriage, religion, war, and education, among others.

Book information:
Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns (hardcover version)
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publication date: 2007
Number of pages: 372
Setting: Afghanistan
Time period: 1960’s through 2003
Subject headings: Families—Fiction, Afghanistan—Fiction


  1. This is a very powerful book that as you mentioned made me realize how happy and lucky I am to have been born in the United States. It has been several years since I read A Thousand Splendid Suns but just thinking about the treatment of women in Afghanistan as portrayed by Hosseini makes me want to take action.

  2. I don't think it's a problem that we both read the same book. I enjoy hearing other perspectives. I like that a solitary experience like reading can become social.

    I've looked at the genre discussion spreadsheet again, and we've both signed up to discuss this book. From your annotation, I think we've had the same reaction to the book, but appreciate different aspects. That should make for a wonderful complimentary discussion.