Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Monday, April 18, 2011
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini
I read Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, in February 2005. (Pretty sharp memory for a literary amnesiac, eh? Well, it helps when I have something to tie it to, like my friend CR . . . have I really not seen her for more than six years??)
For me, The Kite Runner was a lot like the movie Saving Private Ryan: very well done, but I never want to see it again. (I really didn't even want to see it the first time but I was forced to.) Too much horribleness for me. So when I heard about A Thousand Splendid Suns, I wasn't especially interested in reading it. I'd had enough of Hosseini's Afghanistan, no matter how good I heard the book was.
Then it was chosen for book club. Oh joy. (It wasn't my month to pick the book, can you tell?)
As it turns out, though, I'm glad to have read Suns. It wasn't as unpleasant as I'd been expecting. It's the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, and the ties between them. Conflict in their personal lives is set against the backdrop of the constant turmoil in their country.
Sure, the story has its share of nastiness and brutality, but you know what the difference was between this book and Hosseini's first one? In The Kite Runner (as with Saving Private Ryan) so much of the cruelty--during the parts that stand out in my memory, anyway--was intentional. People did awful things to other people, and they did those things on purpose.
But in Suns the majority of the awfulness was just part of the situation in Afghanistan. It was cloaked, in a way, by the anonymity of modern war. That's not to say there was no personally-directed viciousness, because there's quite a lot of horrifying Taliban-sanctioned oppression and abuse of women. But there was more of a sense of hope, and of the strength that helped these people through terrible situations. At the core of the book is this truth: "Every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet people find a way to survive, to go on."
I can't help but wonder what the Taliban have against parakeets.