Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Considering the enormous success of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's second novel was eagerly expected. He fully meets those lofty expectations with A Thousand Splendid Suns. Like The Kite Runner, this book too explores universal emotions like loss, guilt, trust and redemption against the backdrop of the chaos in Afghanistan. It does so through the lives of two Afghan women who are born in different places in different eras but end up fighting together against all the troubles life throws at them. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fitting follow-up to The Kite Runner.

Mariam is the illegimate daughter of a rich businessman in the city of Herat. Abandoned by her father at the time she needs him most, she is forced to marry a much older cobbler and move to Kabul. Laila is born a short while after Mariam moves to Kabul. Laila's mother is constantly grieving over her two sons who have gone off to war and a boy named Tariq is Laila's only friend. Tariq's family moves out of Afghanistan and Laila's family is ready to follow them when fate strikes a really harsh blow. The lives of Mariam and Laila then intersect in unexpected ways.

The book definitely qualifies as a tear-jerker. The pain and suffering that Mariam and Laila go through are heart-rending and there is almost no physical or mental abuse that they are not subjected to. As young girls, whether its Mariam's dejection at being disappointed by her dad or Laila's regret at being neglected by her mom, Hosseini captures their naieve thoughts and feelings in a way that touches our hearts. Their troubles only increase as they grow older and though they are strong and brave women who finally realize that they can trust and depend on each other, they are caught in some really harsh conditions. There are some particularly scary situations after some new characters enter the picture. Things never feel manipulative or fake but there are a couple of places where we wish things would change.

Ofcourse, its only sadness that makes us understand - or savour - happiness more and Hosseini knows this too well. So moments of happiness, like Mariam or Jo bonding or something even more simple like Mariam holding onto a baby's fingers, even if fleeting, are simply exhilarating. Ofcourse, when something big happens, like the wonderfully surprising plot point that finally gives us hope that their lives could change, its a given that our hearts simply soar. And the final line of the book is filled with as much meaning and is as lifting as I ran.

Hosseini's narration is simple yet powerful. With plain but elegant prose, he manages to create characters and moments that stay with us long after the book is finished. His writing is evocative and the images he creates are so vivid that they seem to leap off the pages. Whether he's writing about people or cities, he has the ability to describe them in a way that makes it easy for us to picture them in our minds. So the people seem as real as people we've met and the places seem as vivid as places we've visited. This is one of the reasons why the happenings have such a big impact.


At 8:44 AM, Blogger mitr_bayarea said...


Nice review...A Thousand splendid sons is an apt follow up to Kite Runner, though, I enjoyed Kite Runner slightly more than this one.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

after all your glowing praise for hoseini, i want to at least check out th emovie version of the kite runner...will defn make time for that sometime soon...

At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

such a lovely book....definitely a must read....


At 11:04 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

mitr, wouldn't have read this if i hadn't read 'kite runner'. so have u to thank for this too :)

ram, all i can say is "you have no idea what u're missing" :)

priya, yes, it is. as long as u're ready for a tear-jerker :)

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Me too said...

As much as I'm tempted to read this follow up to Kite Runner, especially with your '5-thumbs-up' rating, I don't think I'm ready for tear-jerkers yet!

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Kumari said...

I finished this book last week and was planning to write about it. You've done a better job so I shall stay put :)

But I still feel Kiterunner's prose was a lot better than 'A 1000 SS'; it was crisper and hence hurt more. I don't like reading about abuse, much less child-abuse even in a novel and that was the only reason I was happier with Hosseini's second book :)
But one thing is for sure, Afghanistan is just one helluva tortured nation :(

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Balaji Sivaraman said...

Me Too: I was in the same situation as you before deciding to pick up The Kite Runner. I hate tear-jerkers since I want my books to entertain me throughout. But, The Kite Runner is definitely not a tear-jerker. I am about halfway through it and it is definitely one of the best books I have ever read and it has many moments that make your heart soar more than anything else (and very few tear-jerker moments). So, check it out if you can.

Other than that, great review BB. I am reading Kite Runner right now on your recommendation but I think I will pass on Thousand Splendid Suns since I have an aversion to tear-jerkers in any entertainment form. :)


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