book review: a thousand splendid suns

My rating: 4.7 out of 5. Recommended for those above the age of 14 years old.

I've heard of Khaled Hosseini's books(specifically The Kite Runner) many times, but for some reason never had the intuition to pick one up and read it. Whenever i went to a bookstore, his latest book would always be on the bestseller's list. So i guess that's why when i saw this book at the Big Bad Wolf Booksale the other day,i thought of giving it a try. I didn't really plan on reading it anytime soon until one of my friends(who apparently doesn't like reading books that much) claimed that she enjoyed this book and cried. So yeah, i gave it a try. I have no regrets AT ALL.

A Thousand Splendid Suns starts off in the 1970's with Maryam, who was a child born out of wedlock in Afghanistan. Maryam's father, Jalil, had three wives who all lived under the same roof. Maryam and her mother were isolated from the society and lived at the outskirts of the city, where nobody could judge Jalil for his shame. He still loved his daughter though, who thought the world of Jalil and is ambitious that she would be able to live with him someday. Maryam was 15 years old when her life turned upside down, dealing with heartbreak, betrayal, loss, abuse and many other hardships.

I read the book with absolutely no review of the story whatsoever, so i had fun going through the unexpected events of the story, hence i shall not reveal any more of the plot in case you haven't read it.

This book painted the picture very well for me to imagine what life in Afghanistan can be like, especially for the women there. It has a lot of historical insight as well, explaining in conversations about the wars and political conflicts. Although admittedly i don't understand much from the history that's being mentioned(you probably need some prior knowledge to it), it was still great to learn a thing or two about the country and its culture.

The way the story was told was quite impressive. Hosseini divides the book into 4 parts; the first part telling the story of Maryam, the second part of Laila, and the other two parts are the two characters' points of view alternating between chapters when their lives intertwine. It was also very chronological where the years are stated in some chapters to indicate how old the characters are at that time. Sometimes, the author gives you a hint of something is was going to happen later, leaving the reader curious about how it happens(it WON'T be what you expect). Then when you finally reach that part, it'll feel like a mental puzzle just clicked together in your head. Okay, or maybe that only happened to me.

I remember my hands shaking at one point while reading the book, because i was nervous to find out what was going to happen next. I guess that means that i managed to get so absorbed into the book that i felt like i was a character in it. It probably helped that i was also a girl, so i was able to relate with the main characters in certain ways. I learnt more about the sacrifices of a parent, especially from mothers. Women in that kind of environment have to deal with so, so much. Having to marry a man 20-30 years older, getting abused by their unkind husband for petty reasons, being oppressed by the radically conservative government, abandonment by their sons who leave for jihad, feeding their children at times of poverty, keeping their family alive during times of war and many more. It was moving to read how some of the women there deal with these sorts of situations.

I didn't find the book to be a hard read for myself, but i think younger readers probably shouldn't read it until they are a bit older. The content is quite mature so i'm not sure if younger readers would be able to appreciate the emotional ride that it offers. Also, there's surprisingly one or two parts describing a moment of intimacy that probably isn't appropriate until you're a bit older. There are also quite a number of metaphorical lines that may be difficult to understand. The deep kind of stuff, i mean.

A friend of mine told me that a non-Muslim who was considering to revert to Islam had read The Kite Runner once and had changed their mind. I haven't read The Kite Runner, but after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns i have a general assumption on why that person had concerns. The book doesn't portray Islam perfectly, and that's completely understandable. In Afghanistan(during the earlier days, at least) a lot of the practices are quite influenced by the culture there and the radicals are just scary. I think it's quite similar to countries like Saudi Arabia in the earlier days where men are very dominant. Women have almost no power against men, leading to them getting physically and mentally abused. This of course, doesn't portray the religion of Islam where men are supposed to have a level of respect for women.

I do however respect Khaled Hosseini for attempting to show the peacefulness of Islam by inserting some Quranic verses in and having some good characters showing good examples.

[***Spoiler section***]

Maryam wasn't really a likable character, but she wasn't all unlikable either. Her naivety made sense seeing as she lived in the same place for most of her youth before she got married. She's never had a friend, and she's basically lost both of her parents. The part where i shed a tear was when she ended her relationship with her father. Damn, that betrayal was an arrow to the heart. It was heartwarming for her to find happiness during her first pregnancy. After going through more crap with Rasheed and the betrayal when he married Laila, i was happy that she finally discovered love through her friendship with Laila and her bond with Laila's children. The way she loved them and protected them was just beautiful. When she died, it seemed unfair that her whole life was quite a tragedy. Reading that she accepted her fate and had something worth dying for was a decent compensation for her sad, depressing end.

Rasheed is a hypocritical asshole and i hate him. I actually gave him a chance at the start of the book and actually started to like him when he gave time to Maryam to settle in. I thought he was going to be one of those unkind men who changes for the better when they meet a good woman. It was heartbreaking when Maryam lost her baby, and my heart smashed into smaller pieces when i read that she had another 6 miscarriages. It was understandable for Rasheed to be upset and normal that he would start treating her a little coldly, but he stepped over the line the moment when he enjoyed watching her suffer. That scene where he made her chew on rocks made me want to take a knife and stab him in the guts. I can't decide if he really deserves to die or not because at some point he actually carried out his responsibility as a father and head of his family, but i'm glad he was out of the way of Laila and the children's future in the end.

I like Laila. I like that she was rebellious as a teenager, and brave as a woman. Her friendship with Tariq was cute, i'm glad Hosseini had put in some actual romance in the story too. Of course i didn't like the mistake she made with him and i wish she had shown her repentance for it more, but her courage to do what she thought was best for her child/ren was inspiring. That part when she was going to give birth to her second child(via operation) without any anesthetic was just intense. I'm shaking just thinking about the pain she must have gone through, and it was so sweet how Maryam was there for her. I'm glad she hadn't forgotten Maryam in the end, and had come back home to help build her city again. That last line in the book was the perfect glue to my shattered heart.

[***End of spoiler section***]

This book was very similar to Jean Sasson's Princess, telling more of less the same things but in different environments. These kinds of books are heartbreaking and fervently emotional. A lot of lessons can be learnt from these books, especially because they're a decent representation of real-life situations in those countries. It'll make you appreciate your freedom and life more, and pray for those who are still oppressed. If you are a guy, perhaps you would enjoy The Kite Runner more because that one is told in a male's point of view. I heard they're making a movie for this one, so i can't wait to see this story being brought to life, even though it felt like i was watching a movie in my head while reading it anyway.


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2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Kamalia has read 15 books toward her goal of 50 books.