Wednesday, April 08, 2009

BOOKS: A Thousand Splendid Suns

My heart and mind are still racing, having just finished Khaled Hosseini's breathtaking epic novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. All week, I have been commuting with anxious nerves, shaking with rage, or tears running down my cheeks, as I have been making my way through this marvelous story of two women spanning several decades of Afghanistan's tumultuous recent history. The two women, whose stories begin many years and hundreds of miles apart, come together in a surprising and inspiring way. The epic tale not only spans the monarchy, the communists, the warlords, the Taliban, and beyond, the horrors of a war-torn city, the despicable injustices of Islamist rule, conflicts of traditionalists versus the more modern-minded, and the conflicts between compassion and the cruel treatment of women and illegitimate children under cover of traditional Afghan and Muslim codes of honor. Hosseini illustrates these grand themes with an engrossing story and vivid memorable characters. I loved his descriptions of children, how they perceived the people around them, and how those perceptions changed as they matured. The recurring themes of memory were hauntingly poignant, how even the greatest memories can be like trying to hold water in your fingers, but also how the memory of someone lost who once shaped us can mark us indelibly and affect us years later. And it is also the story of a city, Kabul, vividly described, once a place where children played in the streets and women gossiped around a communal tandoor, then later a place where people hid inside as rockets and bullets strafed the city skies, and then later the place where religious fanatics enforced beards on men, burqas on women (never unaccompanied), and prohibited music and kite-flying. While there is a lot of sorrow and pain in this story (how could there not be?), Maryam and Laila persist and inspire. Their spirit is like a weed growing up from a dry river bed toward the sun, despite being parched by drought and ravaged by fire, there is a dignity and beauty in its endurance. Though the book ended in a very fitting place, I was sorry to see it end, as I am reluctant to let go of its characters. I think I will remember them for a long time.

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