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.


Kate said...

I read this a couple of years ago and felt the same way. It was difficult for me to get through - I think it took me a couple of months because the thought of reading it just brought me down.

I liked it - I'm glad I read it. Don't want to re-read.

Kay said...

I totally understand your feelings. My book club did this one several years ago. It was well received, but I wouldn't ever want to reread it.

Kristi said...

I preferred this one to the Kite Runner also. It helped me put my own life into perspective a bit. The violence was a bit overwhelming at times, but it felt necessary to really show what life was like for women in Afghanistan.

I did also like the Kite Runner, but it was more difficult reading about such a young sociopath. The main character also was horrible until he grew up. It made it really difficult to root for him with what he had done in the past.

Red said...

I've never read The Kite Runner and like you, this book was picked for my book club. I had the same "glad I read it, I never want to do that again" experience. It was a beautiful, moving story but I don't really want to go through that again.

Avid Reader said...

I've been hesitant to read this one for te same reason as you. Read The Kite Runner, thought it was really good, but didn't want to revisit. I may have to check this out.

Ben Carroll said...

i'm with you here: i loved this book, but i would never choose to read it again.

if the Kite Runner is even harder, then i'm staying away from that for now. i'm a bit of a coward.

Irene Palfy said...

I loved this one - though I had not picked it myself (it was a bookclub read for me, too). I do not know THE KITE RUNNER yet.. (well, someday somehow..)

Have a great week!

She said...

I remember bawling in public while reading this one. I'm glad it wasn't a Saving Private Ryan for you. :)

Eclectic Indulgence said...

Also wasn't my favourite work, and I didn't remember a lot of it so I forced myself to read my own review. After reading it, I laughed at myself... was not expecting that I would compare the book to eating too much ice cream.

Greg Zimmerman said...

Let me add another "loved it, wouldn't read it again" vote. I was especially drawn to the Afghan history in this book - it had me scrambling off to find actual history books to read. I didn't know much of anything about this before.

You're reading House of Leaves now?! Nice! Quite a juxtaposition with 1,000 Splendid Suns, though. ;)

Kathy said...

It's funny how everyone had a "good once, never again" opinion! But, of course, not very surprising.

Speaking of history (Greg), know what I found especially chilling? Massoud, April 2001: "If President Bush doesn't help us, these terrorists will damage the U.S. and Europe very soon."

Amanda said...

I preferred The Kite Runner. I had a really hard time with this one. The accepted/expected level of violence towards women made my stomach turn. I did find the end more uplifting and made the story worthwhile.
I have to agree, wouldn't read either again, didn't even want to see the The Kite Runner movie.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

Kathy said...

Funny that you preferred The Kite Runner, Mandy! But I know what you mean about the level of violence towards women.

Thanks for visiting again, rohit!

Micaella Lopez said...

I loved Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner," and I knew I would enjoy "A Thousand Splendid Suns." However, I had no idea how amazing this book was, and it is now one of my all-time favorites.

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