03 May 2010

37. A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

This book was written by the author of “The Kite Runner”. That was one of the best books I have ever read. I had high expectations for this one also. Especially after my daughter read it and said it was better.

Did it live up to those expectations? In some ways it did. In others, it fell short.

I absolutely loved the historical aspect of this book. How Hosseini describes the differences in society before the Soviet invasion, during the communist control of the country, after the Soviet’s left and the warlord’s fought for control, the Taliban days and the post American invasion days.

Afghanistan has gone through some major political upheaval in the last 50-60 years. How a people can withstand that much change and have so little control over their own destiny is hard to comprehend.

I also think Hosseini is amazing at describing the settings and the people over a period of time. I definitely felt like I had a visual to go along with his story. Not just a hazy picture of what he was relating, but a visualization of the real place. It was weird how it popped up into a three dimensional image complete with scents and sounds as I was reading each scene in the book.
I think Hosseini is a master at building the relationships between people using words. It was easy to understand how the characters felt towards each other, how an event may affect them, and to predict how they were going to react as the story unfolded.

Then there was the story itself. The story is basically about two very different women who’s lives become intertwined in an Islamic society. Sometimes that society is freer and more liberal towards women. At other times the women are treated worse than dogs.

The story is predictable. I was not surprised by anything that occurred. I was waiting for events to occur before they actually did. Examples of my “premonitions” in this story: Azziza being taken to an orphanage, the death of Laila’s parents, the return of the dead Tariq, Maraim and Laila’s struggles and eventual bond like sisters/mother-daughter. None of these events or anything else surprised me.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy the book. I did. Immensely.

It is also not saying that it was totally predictable. There were many “shocking” things. I knew Laila’s parents would die, but the description of the rocket attack was much more than I expected. I knew Laila would birth a son, but the description of the women’s hospital conditions under the Taliban was horrific. Imagine having a cesarean section without anesthesia. Damn!

Rasheed was also no surprise, but he was a shocking fellow. I knew he was one of those guys who believe in the hard-line fundamentalist Islam. Not the violent terrorist one, but the one with the burqas and the women speak when spoken to. Women are the property of the man to do with as he wishes. That kind of guy. The character was written very well.

I did not hate Rasheed despite all the despicable things he did. Why is that? The only thing I could come up with is that I tried not to look at him from a “rich” spoiled Caucasian Christian American perspective. Why was this man the way he was? Why were so many women in the prison for running away from home? Obviously they too had husbands much like Rasheed. So, Rasheed was only one of thousands of men taught to believe a certain way and then did what they felt was right. Even if I think Rasheed’s actions are abhorrent and evil, it was not thought of that way within his own society. So, how could I hate HIM?

I couldn’t. I sympathized with him. Not because his wives and children made things hard for him. Not because he lost everything. I sympathized with him because he was trained to be a certain way and then was unable to see that it was too extreme. He was unable to look at himself and tried to bend the will of others, as he was taught to do all his life. It was futile. It was doomed to keep him in a life full of misery and loneliness. In this way, and only this way, I felt bad for Rasheed.

Other than that the dude was a total piece of crap who just lied and manipulated to control people and use bullying and thug tactics to run his household. Beatings and threats were a daily occurrence for both Mariam and Laila. It was sad and shocking.

The hardest part for me emotionally was when Rasheed turned on Laila. This was during the Taliban days. Azziza was in the orphanage. Laila wanted to visit her, but could not leave the house without a male escort or she would be beaten. Laila took repeated public whippings in order to see her daughter. Rasheed, being a vindictive bastard, refused to escort her, just to be a jerk. She would go anyway. Why was this so hard for me?

I felt trapped with her. She had no control. She could not bring Azziza home. She could not go to live with her. She could not run away. She could not ignore the situation. She could not just move to another place. She was totally stuck in a place where her choice was to take a physical beating or to leave her daughter to the wolves. It was a bad situation all around. I really felt the walls closing in. Mostly it was a feeling of the helplessness of these women. There was nowhere for them to turn. It was one of the most frustrating feelings I have had reading any book.

So, despite the book being utterly predictable as a plot line, I recommend it. It has so many good points that they make up for the lack of suspense. Sometimes the story itself and the themes within it are good enough that it doesn’t need to keep you on the edge of your seat to move you. This was one of those books.

I would read anything Khaled Hosseini wrote.

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