This book. I mean. Just. Oh, man. Go read it. Right away.
There are books that you read because they’re classics. There are books that you read because they’re the popular thing these days. And then there are books that you read that reach down into your soul and grab hold, ones that become a part of who you are, of your story. This is one of those books.
I think I discovered this book on a Buzzfeed Must-Read List sometime last year (or the beginning of this one). It sounded all right, and I had heard wonderful things about the author, Khaled Hosseini. So I added it to my bookit list and didn’t think much more on it for awhile.
While visiting The Professor at the end of last month, I browsed one of the bookshelves in his house and- lo and behold!- a copy of the book was just lying there waiting to be read!
A week later I was back at home and diving into the pages. I thought it might be a good end-of-day read, something to browse through before bedtime. But it is NOT. I opened the first page and didn’t set it down until I had finished it. (okay, well, I did set it down, but only to observe responsible bedtimes for work purposes).
I drank this story.
At its core, and spanning 50 years, this is a story about two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, and how their lives intersect. It’s about the challenges faced by real women in a time and place that does not look favorably on them. The two characters deal with forced marriage, domestic violence, shame, war, fear, and helplessness, to name a few. Every page is relentless, powerful, and full of heart-wrenching realism. I finished the book near 12:30 one night, sobbing. The issues the characters are faced with are issues that real women are forced to deal with today. And I was so very and naively uninformed.
When asked why he decided to write a book based on the lives of two Afghan women, Hosseini responded:
In the spring of 2003, I went to Kabul, and I recall seeing these burqa-clad women sitting at street corners, with four, five, six children, begging for change. I remember watching them walking in pairs up the street, trailed by their children in ragged clothes, and wondering how life had brought them to that point…I spoke to many of those women in Kabul. Their life stories were truly heartbreaking…When I began writing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I found myself thinking about those resilient women over and over. Though no one woman that I met in Kabul inspired either Laila or Mariam, their voices, faces, and their incredible stories of survival were always with me, and a good part of my inspiration for this novel came from their collective spirit.
I feel, at the very least, the beginning of an awakening to the issues that women under Taliban rule are forced to endure. Banned from active life, from the ability to work, or to provide for themselves, or to protect themselves, they are essentially chattel and are given no choice in what they must face. Afghanistan, in particular, has been ravaged by internal war for decades. Add this to our current collective history involving September 11th, and we can begin to imagine just how devastating are the lives of people living there- most especially the women, who have no right, say, or control over where they live or what they do.
What are books for if not to widen our worlds?
And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion.
‘It wasn’t so much the the whistling [of the rockets] itself,’ Laila thought later, ‘but the seconds between the start of it and the impact. The brief and interminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. The waiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.’
Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.
…Now I have to go find all the rest of Khaled Hosseini’s books and devour those, too. I hope you start with this one.