Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Review Contest: A Thousand Splendid Suns (Reviewed by Sherene Jawing)

After his first novel, The Kite Runner, was hailed as the international number one bestseller in 2003, Khaled Hosseini released his second novel entitled A Thousand Splendid Suns on May 22 2007. The title of the book refers to a 17th century poem, Kabul, which was written by the Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. It was originally a Farsi poem, but the generally accepted English translation was done by Dr. Josephine Davis.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells a tale of two brave and remarkable women, Mariam and Laila, living through harsh times in Afghanistan. The novel is divided into four parts. The first part of the book tells the story of Mariam, who was introduced into the story at the age of 5. As the pages are turned, we learn of Mariam as a harami (illegitimate child) of a wealthy business man Jalil who practically abandoned her before she was even born. Mariam spent her bleak childhood with her pessimist mother Nana in the outskirts of Heart. At the age of fifteen, after much hurt and disappointment, Jalil betrayed her by giving her away in marriage to Rasheed, who was more than 30 years older than her, right after Nana committed suicide. Mariam moved to Kabul with her new husband. The initial stages of her marriage started off well, but things started to crumble when she had a miscarriage. That was the beginning of Rasheed’s cold behaviour and verbal and physical abuse towards her.

Laila takes centre stage in Part Two. As a young girl, she was exceptionally bright and was very close friends with Tariq, whom she eventually developed unplatonic feelings for. Laila grew up during the times of war in Afghanistan, which prohibited her from going to school with her other friends. During the war, she lost her friend who was killed by a stray rocket and her two brothers Ahmad and Noor who have become shaheed (martyrs). The lost of her brothers caused her mother to phase into a state of inconsolable mourning, and Laila felt all the more neglected by her mother who was oblivious to the fact that she still had another living child with her. Things worsened when Tariq and his family decides to leave Kabul. He tried to persuade Laila to follow them and even proposed to her, but she refused as she did not want to leave her parents. The second part of the novel ended on a sad note. As they were about to leave, a stray rocket hits her home and killed both her parents, but spared Laila from death.

Part Three sees the lives of both characters intertwine. Laila marries Rasheed after he rescued her from the rubbles and after deceiving her to believe that Tariq was dead. Discontented with her husband’s action, Mariam treated Laila full of hostility despite the girl’s efforts to befriend her. Things between the two women detoriated when Laila announced her pregnancy with Rasheed’s child, which was in fact Tariq’s child she was carrying. Rasheed treated Laila like a queen but changed his mind when she gave birth to a baby girl, Aziza. After some time, Mariam and Laila developed a friendship as both women endured the trails and turmoil of life.

I find the novel to be emotionally draining as from the very first page of the book, you begin to sympathise with the characters and start to get attached to them. As the story progresses, we can see every bit of happiness being pried away from the characters hands caused not only by the war, but mainly by the people that are closest to them. For Mariam’s case, she was plunged into a state of devastation by her own father’s betrayal and just when things started to get along fine with Rasheed, the tables were turned when she had a miscarriage. Laila’s world slowly fell apart one by one starting from the death of her friend. Although both women experienced different types of emotional pain, it was the physical pain and the comfort of their companionship that brought them closer together.

One thing about the novel is that Hosseini cleverly inserts the political calamity within the novel to enhance the intensity of the story. He tells readers about the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban and even the 9/11 incident in America, by which confirms to the readers that he is using a modern time-frame for the story. Even though the political issues surfaced once in a while, it plays its part as it affects and determines the course of the characters’ lives. The major focus of the story however, would be love and self-sacrifice.

Love and self-sacrifice are two things that go hand-in-hand. Out of love towards her parents, Laila gave up the opportunity to escape Kabul with Tariq. Out of love towards Aziza, Laila was willing to get caught and beaten up by the Talibans just to see her daughter. Out of love towards his son, Rasheed took the risk of getting caught by the Talibans by buying a television set for his son, Zalmai. Out of love towards her friend and family, Mariam surrendered herself to the Talibans to be publicly executed after killing Rasheed with a shovel. Hosseini demonstrates that during hard times, people with a sincere heart and clear motives are willing to set aside everything for the ones they love, even if it means giving up every single thing that they have for the other person.

Overall, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an amazing book that dares to cross the boundaries and tells the truth regarding the lives of those living through the war in Afghanistan. This novel is also confronts readers regarding human nature and the principles that is upheld by everyone. If you are looking for a book that will challenge your soul and gratitude towards the things that you have in life, then this book will do just fine.

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