A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Recently I talked about how much I enjoyed The Kite Runner. I just finished Hosseini’s second novel: A Thousand Splendid Suns. Upon my initial reflection, I liked this book even better than The Kite Runner. Once again, Hosseini brings alive the culture in Afghanistan and sheds a light on the plight of the people there over the last three decades. The story focuses on two women Mariam and Laila and much of the book reveals the terrible conditions under which women have live in Afghanistan for decades. Through their eyes, however, you can see the toll that the constant warring has taken on the people as well as the country as a whole.

A Thousand Splendid SunsA single line from the book stands out to me. The line comes from Chapter 36, which occurs in 1994. By this time, the Soviets have been out of Afghanistan for approximately 5 years and Afghanistan is embroiled in a civil war. Plus it is still a couple of years before the Taliban has taken control of the country (and Kabul). Thus, this scene occurs before the draconian rule imposed by the Taliban. In this chapter Laila says, “The freedoms and opportunities that women had enjoyed between 1978 and 1992 were a thing of the past . . . .”

Think about that. Even under the warlords who ruled Afghanistan after the Soviets and before the Taliban, the laws were so strict and oppressive that Afghan women looked upon the Soviet occupation as providing “freedom and opportunities.” That single sentence speaks volumes about the conditions under which Afghan women have suffered for decades.

The other refrain that I saw throughout this novel is the same one that I saw in The Jungle. i will admit up front that my views of The Jungle may not be conventional. I understand why people condemned the meat packing industry because of this book, however, that I not the most important theme that I got from the book. Further, I certainly was not convinced by the socialism themes that Sinclair was pushing in the book. Instead, the main thing that I took from the book was that trying to live your lives by what other people expect you to do, often results in people making poor decisions.

For example, in The Jungle, the characters are unable to get married because they cannot pay for the type of party that is expected in their culture. While I was reading The Jungle and the characters were struggling with this problem, I kept thinking to myself that many of their economic problems could be alleviated, if not solved, if the simply stopped caring about whether their neighbors thought they were “doing the right thing” and instead, used the wedding money to improve their situation rather than throw a party for the neighborhood.

I saw that same theme repeated in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Time after time, the characters would explain, as a justification for oppression, that things had to be this way in order to keep the neighbors from talking, or to ensure that the women were respected by others.

Now I certainly don’t advocate anarchy. Further, I believe that cultural customs can be a great way to unite a community of people. However, the worst excuse I have ever heard for doing something is “Because we have always done it that way.” The second worse is “Because [someone important or in authority] said we should do it this way.” Unfortunately it appears that these two reasons seem to form the backbone of most of the oppressive and atrocious acts that happen.

Anyway, if you are looking for a good book, check out A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini can tell a great story and he does so here with a rich backdrop of Afghanistan.