Margaret Atwood said that 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk “is writing [Turkey] into being,” and Khaleed Hosseini does the same for Afghanistan in A Thousand Splendid Suns. The delicate beauty of Afghanistan’s past meets its bloody present in this story, but the landscape and people come alive for me, and I care for them.
At the center of Hosseini’s tale of savagery and war are two women. Mariam and Laila are unlikely housemates and when they are brought together into one household because of their husband’s bigamous marriage, it is obvious that they will never be friends. However, as they observe the tragedies of each other’s lives, they slowly forge a bond that will transform them. It is clear that they only have each other in their besieged world.
Ultimately, this is a moving snapshot of two women’s lives, but it is antithetical to most of the stories that are published in America today about women. These women are not worried about their body image. They are not guilty over getting drunk and doing something foolish with a guy they met at a bar. They are not contemplating leaving their families because they feel unfulfilled. Mariam and Laila aren’t given the privilege of these emotions and thoughts.These women live in terror, poverty, and isolation; they cannot afford the luxury of vanities. At the end, when they are given the opportunity, they make choices for family and community, not themselves.
Hosseini creates a portrait of a world we hear about on the news but will never see. The narration is slow and full of imagery. The voices of Mariam and Laila are distinct and clear. Hosseini takes time with his story and trusts that the reader will follow his lithe hand, and we do because the path of the story is so heart-wrenchingly compelling. Perhaps this book is so successful because it creates a bit of beauty out of the shards of misery, deceit, betrayal, selfishness, and cruelty that so often afflicts human kind. Hosseini suggests that our ability to love and create beautiful lives amidst devastation is the greatest gift we have.