Well, following from my previous post about the books I had acquired (and I finally received my copy of A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson) I have finished A Thousand Splendid Suns.
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS BY KHALED HOSSEINI
SYNOPSIS: Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.
REVIEW (THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!): A Thousand Splendid Suns was the follow up to Khaled Hosseini's immensely popular The Kite Runner, released in 2007.
This book is written from the perspective of two women, Mariam and Laila. Mariam is from Herat, and is forced to marry Rasheed, a shop owner when her mother commits suicide and her father refuses to take her in. Moving miles away from the place she knows as home, she watches Laila, a bright young girl grow up with her best friend Tariq. After the Soviets take over Kabul, the city turns into a warzone and Laila's parents are killed in a rocket attack. Mariam and Rasheed take Laila in, nursing her back to health, but all Laila can think about is Tariq, her best friend and lover who had left Kabul a couple of weeks earlier, and of whom she made love to finally. Rasheed, eager to have a new, young bride, tells her that Tariq is dead, and decides that she should marry him. Laila, despondent and without hope, agrees, and shortly afterwards her daughter Aziza is born, the daughter of Tariq. However, the home life is not without problems, as Mariam is initially is angry at the younger girls presence. However, over time, the two women become confidants, agreeing to flee Rasheed and Kabul for pastures new. However, their attempt is thwarted, and upon arriving home they are savagely beaten by their husband and forced to live without food and water for three days. The women go through months of abusive and aggression at the hands of their husband, and after a while Laila becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Zalmai.
When the Taliban take over Kabul, the city is no longer recognisable from the one Laila grew up in. Women are forbidden to walk the streets without a man, and after Rasheed's shop is burnt to the ground, they are forced to sell their belongings and put Aziza in an orphanage. Rasheed's temper, however, is worse than ever, escalated in violence. Then, one day, Tariq turns up at the house, and Laila has a renewed hope. Zalmai, who is very much his fathers son, tells Rasheed of Tariq visiting Laila and he erupts in murderous rage, beating Mariam and Laila to the point of death. Unable to watch him kill Laila, Mariam grabs a shovel and kills her husband.
Laila begs Mariam to flee Kabul with her, her children and Tariq, but Mariam is without spirit. She says she cannot live a life on the run, and begs Laila to leave Kabul with her first love. They depart, and Mariam is arrested, tried and executed. The family marry, and move, but Laila is determined to return to Kabul after the Taliban fall, before visiting Herat, Mariam's place of birth. Here, she is given a box from Mariam's tutors son, with a letter from her father who is remorseful for sending her away, and begs for forgiveness, written before his death. The story ends with Laila, Tariq and the children returning to Kabul, where she becomes a teacher and is pregnant with her third child, never forgetting the love of Mariam.
This was an immensely harrowing read. The horrific acts that happen to Mariam and Laila are beyond comprehension, and it taught me a lot about the regimes of Afghanistan under the Soviets and Taliban, of which I was previously ignorant to. Both women suffered at the hands of their mother and absent father (Mariam) and their husband (Laila) with unspeakable behavior and anger. It was very hard to read some of the violence, but Hosseini wrote it well, without it being gratuitous.
It was a very engaging read from start to finish. I have to admit I wouldn't usually pick up a book of this kind, largely because of my ignorance to the Eastern world, but I am so glad I did as it has taught me a lot about the politics behind the times. The words were written beautifully, and the descriptions of the cities and rolling hills were very easy to imagine thanks to Hosseini. My only criticism of the book would be that there was a lot of despair - I think it could have been an equally good book without so much bad luck for Mariam in particular, sometimes it felt like she was a character just designed to be a portrayer of bad fortune. It is neither a hard, nor an easy read, and whilst the chapters are short, there is a lot of information and storytelling behind them. I honestly didn't see Tariq coming back into the story after Laila was informed of his death wrongly, and I was so glad he was brought back as she had a deep love for him that was so achingly described and believable. I felt that the death of Rasheed was deserved after his behaviour towards his wives, and I was glad that Mariam finally dispatched of him, albeit to her downfall - I was so sad that Mariam couldn't join Laila and Tariq in happiness.
I would really recommend this book to any fiction fan, especially those who wish to know more about Afghan politics during the 1980-2000 period, and also the way events such as 9/11 impacted upon cities within.