Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Thosand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Mariam's life revolves around her father's visits. While she lives in a hut with her mother, it's the weekly visits from her father that are the light of her existence. All that changes when she turns fifteen and is forced to marry an older man she has never met. Rasheed lives on the other side of the country, so Miriam leaves behind the only people she has ever known to live with a stranger. Rasheed is a strict man, and Miriam finds herself with restrictions on her new life.

On the day the Soviets invade Afghanistan, another woman is born. Laila is raised in a progressive family. Her father encourages her to learn as much as she can in school. Her mother suffers from depression and leaves her alone most of the time. Her best friend is a neighbor boy, Tariq, who lost a leg to a land mine years earlier.

Laila lives just down the street from Mariam, yet they hardly interact until the struggle for control in Afghanistan brings tragedy to their street. Then their lives become irrevocably linked. Despite the 19 years age difference between them, a strong bond of friendship is formed. Will it be enough to endure the hardship ahead?

I tend to stick to light entertainment and rarely read the more serious works of literature. However, several friends I respect loved Khaled Hosseini's first novel, so I decided to give this one a try. And I'm glad I did.

This book isn't light entertainment by any stretch of the imagination. The writing style produces an almost melancholy air right from the start.

I tend to read plot heavy books, so this character study was a definite change of pace for me. I found the first half slow going at times, mainly because I knew where the story was going. Once I got into the second half, things really picked up. The ending was very bittersweet. I couldn't think of a better way to end it.

Not to say I wasn't interested before then. Mariam and Laila are two very real, interesting characters. I felt for them and became a very real part of their struggles over the course of the book.

Adding to the book's richness is the historical background. The novel covers 40 years of Afghani history. While that is never the focus of the novel, it is an ever present backdrop to the personal struggle of the two women. We in the west often forget how much we truly have to be thankful for. Here, we get a picture of life in the midst of a civil war and under an oppressive regime.

I can understand why my friends were so taken with Hosseini's first novel. I know I will read it at some point. This new book comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by Mark Baker (Santa Clarita, CA United States)

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