A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A lot of excellent writers lose steam after their first novel. Tsitsi Dangarembga came out with the excellent Nervous Conditions, and then very recently published The Book of Not, which in my opinion– and opinions are personal and subjective– was not so excellent.

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Khaled Hosseini began with The Kite Runner, an expertly woven tale about family and loyalty. The Kite Runner is emotional in a genuine way, and regardless of one’s familiarity with the different settings, Afghanistan and the US, at the very heart of it, one is able to relate to the characters, the story, on a basic, human level.

As I have stated before, opinions are personal and subjective and usually up for debate. Khaled Hosseini’s new novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is at the very least as good as The Kite Runner, if not better. Set mostly in Afghanistan, Hosseini charts the herstories of two women, Mariam and Laila, from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, through to the outbreak of war among the different Mujahideen factions, right up until the moment when the Taliban forcefully pushes its way onto the world’s radar. The stories are not new: war, domestic violence, politics, loyalty, and through all these love. It is the nature of the narrative that is new. The stories are separate for a while, until the two women cross paths. Here the tales become intertwined, most times painfully so. Hosseini deftly shifts from the macro level politics to the micro level familial struggles, and yet the two arenas clearly mirror each other. Individual pain and loss become a country’s suffering and reality.

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Perhaps most striking about this novel, however, is its title. A Thousand Splendid Suns is taken from an Afghani poem. Lines of poetry float through this novel just as the reader floats through the author’s carefully chosen words, coming up for breath only when the story becomes too real to allow a continued personal detachment. Once in a while we are guaranteed to see our reflection in Hosseini’s novel. And even in the moments when we do not, the characters never lose their three-dimensional quality. They are always flesh and blood people challenging us to consider, always consider, before we conclude, judge, dismiss. A Thousand Splendid Suns is hard to put down, even after you have finished reading it.

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