19 September 2013

Book Review - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini


 “A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated...”

Although educated to degree level, I do not consider myself to be the most intelligent, insightful, or knowledgeable individual, particularly in the fields of current affairs, history and politics. However, now that I am settling into the ‘real world’ I am keen to wise up in these areas as a key step in growing up.

I have been fortunate enough to live in a well-developed and (relatively) stable country in terms of economy and civility among citizens. Having only visited other well developed countries in my twenty-one years of living, I have been somewhat unaware of how much of a bubble I have been living in, and, however big my problems seem, there are others much more serious and scarring in other parts of the world that I rarely stopped to think about.

That was, until I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Warned by various friends and members of my family that it was heartbreaking, depressing and tragic, I read it anyway, after an old friend gave it to me for my Birthday. I was as touched by this novel as I was by Hosseini’s first, The Kite Runner, and felt it important that I encourage readers of my blog to pick up this book and read it themselves.

The story, and part one, opens from Mariam’s point of view, set in Herat, Afghanistan in the 1970s. It sets us up for the inevitable eruption of the Soviet War in 1979 which we feel the repercussions of in parts two, three and four.

But for this first section of the novel we get to know Mariam – we grow up with her, we endure with her the ordeals and losses she faces, the horrific marriage she has to enter. It is difficult to read at the end of this section that Mariam is just nineteen, and she has been through so much already, yet we know there is worse to come due to the time at which her story is set. Mariam’s story is, from the outset, a very real and seemingly inevitable tragedy. 

“A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed. It won't stretch to make room for you.”

It is in part two when we are introduced to Laila; a seemingly unconnected character to Mariam - and for the duration of this section I started to forget about Mariam - but it becomes apparent towards the end of part two that they are to play monumental parts in one another’s lives.

The four sections of the novel could be stories on their own - a clever technique Hosseini uses with what must have been great patience and hard work.  Having only written short stories and plays myself, the concept of writing a full length novel is something seemingly beyond my ability. To do it well, is even more commendable, and Hosseini deserves the success of this touching and eye-opening story and the techniques implemented in his craft.

It takes real talent to intertwine two protagonists’ stories into one full-length novel, balancing tragedy with hope and loss with reunited love. Hosseini writes with a universally readable flair; his ability to construct descriptive and informative, yet touching and relatable sentences, paragraphs and chapters are what make the novel suitable for most reading levels. 
I am in favour of the short chapter lengths. Perhaps it is psychological – but I seem to enjoy completing tasks in manageable chunks. Not that reading is ever a task, (not anymore now that I’ve finished university) but longer chapters can sometimes seem daunting to those with short concentration spans. I didn’t find mine faltering at any point while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, however. I was gripped from start to finish, and one reason for this was Hosseini’s careful delivery of information throughout each chapter, often dropping little surprises in the very last few sentences of each chapter, urging the reader to go on and read the next.

If you’re looking to read something with a bit more depth than your average Nicholas Sparks chick lit, try this, something with no-nonsense, honest writing. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel that will introduce you to the world of books outside of stock relationship novels and comfort zone prose. It educates, entertains and intrigues, and as a result, I am urged to read about the Soviet War, the current situation and history of women in Afghanistan. If there are any new age feminists reading this, I suggest you do the same. There are startlingly big problems concerning women in that area of the world, which may make the ones we face seem a whole lot smaller.




  1. I'm so glad you read it. Like yourself I also started off with The Kite Runner and loved it so much. But when I read A Thousand Splendid Suns it was .. so amazing!

    I live in Islamabad so I can relate & understand alot of things and situations in the novel. Even Murree - the hill station mentioned in the novel is 1.5 hours from where I live.

    I personally love reading books that reflect life and circumstances. 'Life is nt a bed of roses', its bitter, its cruel, its harsh. And I believe that one should atleast read about it for the sake of knowledge.

    I have had a few Afghan friends. Situation there has been really bad. People would even give away their new borns for a little money just because they could afford to feed them. But life is getting better there. Things are not as bad as they were in the Taliban regime.

    Great review Naomi.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Sarah. I think it's fascinating to learn about other cultures and not only that but it is important to be aware of the bad things that are happening, if only to make ourselves less ignorant. Thank you for stopping by and I'm really glad you liked the review! xo

  2. I am so glad you wrote this, I too read this book over the summer after already being so fond of the Kite Runner. What an eye opener! As for Sarah, it's amazing that you can relate more directly to the context behind the book and it's deep history, it's a different culture so it can be difficult sometimes to associate.

    1. What a coincidence! I want to read it again because it took me about two months to read it the first time around - think it would be good to read it faster this time. xo


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