I’ve been saving this book. I absolutely adored the author’s first novel, the incredible book “The Kite Runner”, and I was really looking forward to reading his equally as acclaimed second novel.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini is a novel that spans several decades and the lives of two women in Afghanistan. The illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man with three wives and many other children, Mariam grows up in a secluded hut with her mother. Although she relishes her father’s weekly visits, she longs for more than her mother’s pessimism and when she is 15, she risks everything and ventures alone into town to confront him. Years later, Laila, another 15 year old, is living in another city but it might as well be another world. Raised in a loving family, although somewhat in the shadow of her absent older brothers, Laila is taught that she can be whoever she wants. However after disaster strikes again and again, Laila finds herself in a desperate situation – one very similar to that of Mariam.
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it so much. I was absolutely blown away when I read “The Kite Runner”, by its creativity as well as its expression, but this book just didn’t do it for me. Part of it was the writing. For some reason, in this book I really felt that Hosseini did a lot of telling, but didn’t do much showing. A lot of the plot felt as heavy-handed as Mariam’s husband. You could see the blows coming a mile away. Story-wise, this book actually reminded me a lot of “The Colour Purple” by Alice Walker. The abusive husband, the lies, the family sent away, the unlikely but enduring female friendship. I felt like Walker’s novel was written much more from the heart. You really feel for Celie in a way that I just couldn’t feel for either Mariam or Leila. Mariam the martyr and Leila the angel. One thing that really bothered me (and which bothers me about a lot of fiction) was Hosseini’s treatment of virginity. He just seemed overly fixated on the seemingly inevitable pain and blood involved in a woman’s first time having intercourse – regardless of the context. Hosseini just didn’t really seem to do a convincing job getting inside the heads of his two female main characters.
There were two things that I did like about this book. The first was that it gave me a bit more understanding about the relentlessness of the conflict in Afghanistan. I did admire Hosseini’s goal of trying to share insights with the reader into the impact of war on ordinary life. The second thing was that where Hosseini’s female characters were a bit two-dimensional, the main antagonist, Mariam’s husband Rasheed, was a brilliant example of the mercurial, complex and often inescapable nature of domestic violence.
I was expecting a brilliant book and I got an OK book. Readable without being groundbreaking, descriptive without being immersive, this book simply doesn’t hold a candle to “The Kite Runner”.