Saturday, April 16, 2011
Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
This is one of those books that I picked up on the sale table for like $3 a few years ago and I just got around to reading it.
The story is set in Afghanistan and it spans the time period from 1974 through 2003. It follows the lives of two women in Kabul, Marian, who is from Herat and Laila, who is born in Kabul.
Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a cinema owner named Jalil. Her mother was a maid in his home and when she got pregnant by him he built her a kolba, a little house out on the outskirts of the village and made her and Mariam live there. Nana (Mariam's mother) is bitter and angry, of course. She is the one made to suffer, to be insulted by the village while the man, Jalil, is still respected. Still lives in town with his three wives and his legitimate children. Nana is also somewhat manic depressive and suffers from 'attacks from a jinn' which, from the descriptions, are really epileptic seizures. Mariam, though, doesn't know or understand all of this. All she knows is that she loves her parents and wants to be a part of her father's life. To live in the big house in town with her brothers and sisters.
One day, when she's fifteen, Jalil breaks a promise to come see her. So she travels all the way into the village. Her father refuses to let her in the house, sends out his drive to tell her that he's not home, but she knows that that's not true. Mariam is actually forced to sleep out in front of her own father's house on the street. One of the consequences of this little event is that Jalil and his wives decide to marry Mariam off. They marry her to a man about 40 years old, keep in mind that Mariam is 15, named Rasheed. He lives in Kabul, which is far enough away that Mariam's family never need to see her again.
At first, Rasheed treats Mariam as though she is precious. Then, she has a miscarriage. From that point on, he changes. Becomes abusive.
Fast forward another 18 years. Laila, who is a neighbor of Rasheed and Mariam, is 14 years old. She is in love with her best friend Tariq, and the warlords of Afghanistan, with the Soviets gone, have turned on one another.
"Morning brought no relief. The muezzin's call for namaz rang out, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west, and prayed. Then the rugs were folded, the guns loaded, and the mountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at the mountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched as helpless as old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prize fish."
People are getting killed all the time by roving bands of mujahideen or missiles. Tariq's family evacuates and Laila's is about to follow, to flee to Pakistan, when a missile hits their house, killing her mother and her father, leaving Laila an orphan.
Rasheed takes her in and marries her. Again, everything is fine, Laila is the queen of the house, while Mariam is little better than a slave. At least, that's the way Rasheed treats them. In reality, Laila wants nothing more than to be a friend to Mariam.
The story follows their lives and the pain and suffering that they face. But it shows the joys too, and the friendship, the family bond that develops between Mariam and Laila. It goes through the wars, the battles, and then the coming of the Taliban. At first, the Taliban are greeted as a good thing, but then it becomes clear that things are not going to go back to the way they were before the Soviets came. This is the announcement that the Taliban play through the streets of Kabul, written on fliers and tossed out to the people:
"Our watan is now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. These are the laws that we will enforce and you will obey:
"All citizens must pray five times a day. If it is prayer time and you are caught doing something other, you will be beaten.
"All men will grow their beards. The correct length is at least one clenched fist beneath the chin. If you do not abide by this, you will be beaten.
"All boys will wear turbans. Boys in grade one through six will wear black turbans, higher grades will wear white. All boys will wear Islamic clothes. Shirt collars will be buttoned.
"Singing is forbidden.
"Dancing is forbidden.
"Playing cards, playing chess, gambling, and kite flying are forbidden.
"Writing books, watching films, and paining pictures are forbidden.
"If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
"If you steal, your hand will be cut off at the wrist. If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.
"If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.
"You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
"You will not, under any circumstances, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
"Cosmetics are forbidden.
"Jewelry is forbidden.
"You will not wear charming clothes.
"You will not speak unless spoken to.
"You will not make eye contact with men.
"You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
"You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
"Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
"Women are forbidden from working.
"If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
"Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar."
This is a book about war, but not in the epic sense of it. This is about how it affects the people on the ground, the people who want nothing to do with it, but have to suffer the consequences of it. It's a book about two women and the things that mothers will do for their children, to keep them safe.
It's an absolutely fabulous book. I didn't expect to enjoy it as I did. The author also wrote another book, The Kite Runner. I haven't read it, but I ordered it so as soon as I get it, I'll be reading it. I think the author is just that good.