We covered 2,849 miles of roadway during out Colorado roadtrip last month and I have to say that Khaled Hosseini's follow-up to The Kite Runner made the time in the car far more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been. Thank goodness for iTunes audiobooks!
As someone with aspirations to write a novel in the future, I can appreciate the challenge of crafting engaging dialogue. Some books pull it off and others stumble along the way with a phoniness that oozes out of every character's mouth, but never have I read a book where the characters were so different from myself, yet so identifiable and believable. How Hosseini could write an entire book not only about women, but about Afhgan women, and make it so easy for a thirtysomething guy from the United States to relate to is beyond my comprehension. But he did. And when I say relate to I mean it.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is ultimately about women growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970's with dreams and hopes and watching their lives transformed first by the Russian invasion, then by the rise of the Taliban. It's a tale of horrendous suffering, of the horrors of arranged marriages, and abuses that fortunately do not happen in our society. But it's also about love, devotion, and the hope that things can improve when logic and incoming rockets tell you otherwise. Sure, A Thousand Splendid Suns is as much a history lesson about Afghanistan as it is a drama about young women coming to terms with their marriage to a ruthless brute, but it's also more.
What really struck me when listening to this book was not how different our cultures are from one another, but rather how many similarities we share. I suspect many chidren of divorced parents will find reflections of their own youth in the early portion of the book. Not only when it describes the pang of waiting for a father to come and visit each week (and hoping he's on time), but also when the issue of going to live with him and his other family arises. The pain it causes to the mother is palpable, but pales in comparison to the disappointment of seeing an otherwise respectable man bend to the will of his other wives and ignore his child. And the repercussions are ones I can't help but say I feared would bode all too true in my own life at times. Thirty thousand miles and decades in time separate me from this character, yet it hit very close to home.
Of course, that's where the similarities between an American life and that of these characters end. Sure, they want the same freedom, education, and fortune that are universal to humankind as I imagine they are, but the predicament the women of the book find themselves in limits this. We have all heard about the women's rights violations imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet Hosseini paints such a vivid picture, that it can at times be hard to even listen to. Imagine that: a life so oppressed others can't even bear to hear it described?
There is good with the bad though, thankfully, and as with all good stories this one ends with a promise of better days. And in this case, a promise made possible by our country's reaction to the attacks on 9/11. And therein lies what is probably the unintentional ethos of the book, to show that good can be found in every wretched situation we humans can inflict upon one another. For as horrific and unconscienable the attacks on 9/11 were, our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan has brought hope to many others. It doesn't bring Americans back from the dead and it cost our country deeply, but something good did ultimately come out of it for the real-life Mariams and Lailas of Afghanistan. It's little comfort to those who lost a loved-one in the attacks, sure, but it exists.
Hosseini is clearly one of the best writers of this generation and I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns to anyone.