Grady Harp, March 28, 2007
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Survival of the Soul: A Link to a Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini confirms his brilliance as an author made in his best selling novel THE KITE RUNNER. With the arrival of A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS he is firmly placed in the realm of important communicators in literature, a writer who can offer a complex history of Afghanistan and the wars that have plagued that country for decades by creating characters whose development and interweaving lives provide a profoundly moving story. It is an amazing achievement and for this reader it even surpasses the superb KITE RUNNER.
Mariam is a 'harami' (bastard), a child fathered by Jalil whose wealth comes from owning the cinema in Kabul and who lives in splendor, while Mariam's servant mother Nana, now condemned to the poor sector of Kabul, lives in anger for her plight. Mariam adores Jalil, imagining that since he is her father she can escape her poverty to live with him. But when she gathers the courage to try her idea she meets scorn from Jalil's 'real family', is not allowed in and returns to her home to find her mother has committed suicide. She eventually is reluctantly married to the ugly older Rasheed who treats her well until Mariam is unable to complete a pregnancy. Mariam then lives in shame and is regularly beaten by Rasheed.
Another character is introduced when Laila is born to another couple in Kabul, a dysfunctional mother and warm father whose political inclinations alter as the forces of power change in Afghanistan from tarnished wealthy land barons to Soviet intervention and war to overthrows to Taliban etc. As a young girl Laila's best friend is Tariq, a bright and happy lad who lost one leg in a land mine explosion. Through the years and changes in political climate their friendship turns to love and unknown to Tariq who is off to Pakistan, Laila becomes pregnant with Aziza. Laila's secret is covered by her family's death and her reluctant marriage to the ugly Rasheed, still married to Mariam. In this odd household time heals private wounds and the two women become fast friends, sharing the household duties and now two children but also sharing the continuous beatings by Rasheed. A climax comes when the two women's futures are altered and they are forced by circumstances to part ways.
Hosseini's gift for visual painting with words is comparable to the best of writers: 'She could make out the minarets in the distance, like the dusty fingers of giants...', 'It's the friction of grain against grain', 'She watched the winds stir mutiny in the dust, whipping it into violent spirals whipped through the courtyard' and ultimately the 'poem' praising Kabul that offers the book its title - 'One could not count the moons that shimmers on her roofs/ Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.' Hosseini takes us behind those walls for forty some years of Afghanistan's bloody history and while he does not spare us any of the descriptions of the terror that continues to besiege that country, he does offer us a story that speaks so tenderly about the fragile beauty of love and devotion and lasting impression people make on people. It is a microcosm of mankind, told with the ever-present history of war in the clouds that would try to hide the thousand splendid suns. The book is immensely important, poignantly pertinent to today's Middle East situation, and one of the finer novels of recent years. Highly recommended. Grady Harp