Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary:  Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.

3.5 to this one, I think. I actually finished this book a couple of days ago but decided to let it sit while I decided what I wanted to write about it.

I also wanted to see if my opinion would shift on it, since the reviews from people on my friends list have been a bit mixed.

I found this to be a solid book, very lyrical and moving. It tells the story of two women in Afghanistan, a generation apart, and how their lives are brought together - whether you regard it by chance or by fate, they change each other's lives and this is their story.

This isn't what I would call a happy book, though I found it to be tinged with hope, infused with the strength of the human spirit. It's a book you read to learn more about the world and the cultures that fill it, and perhaps do some reflecting on how different our lives would be if we'd happened to be born into a different family, a different culture. This was another reminder for myself of just how lucky I was to be born in Canada. The experiences in this book are far removed from what most of us on here have ever gone through ourselves, and surpass our understanding - the grief, the oppression, the poverty, the struggle to survive. It's something to sit with and reflect on, and consider all the ways that we could and should be trying to change it.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the cast of characters in it, and the spectrum that they covered. For all that we sympathise with certain characters, their flaws are also readily apparent - from the selfishness of Mariam's mother and her choices and her father's cowardice, to the cruelty of women who had the chance to give her a different life, to the home life of Laila's mother, a woman we first see through Mariam's eyes.

I've seen some criticism of how men are portrayed in this book, and while I understand where those criticisms are coming from, I think they were offset by certain characters within the book. It's not that all of the men are evil or bad, merely that the story that's being told is very much shaped by men and the poor or perhaps misguided decisions they make, and the actions they consider 'right' which very clearly are not. I think there needs to be room for that kind of story. I also think it's important to remember that every story has a point of view or a perspective that it is trying to show, and that not all books can show all perspectives - and that's okay. I think the story that this book is trying to convey is extremely important and that certain changes would have taken away from what it was.

This book also delves into Afghan history, and for that I think I'll have to reread it at some point - on this read I was more focused on the plot and the characters, and on a second read I think I'd have more awareness of the political backdrop, and absorbing the events that are happening and connecting them to research. I enjoy when a book makes that possible, since this isn't a country that I know much about.

This isn't a book that is an easy or a fun read, as fair warning. It's not the sort of book that you'll want to pick up to read for a bit of fun distraction or 'light reading. It's definitely worthwhile, however, and one I'm glad I picked up. I'm also going to add it to my list of diverse books!

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