“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”.
If Khaled Hosseini shines in The Kite Runner, he was even more brilliant as a writer in A Thousand Splendid Suns. And if I shed a tear or two reading the former, I cried buckets reading the latter. I like the simple prose that touches the heart. Once again, the setting was in Afghanistan, this time, Hosseini takes us to the last thirty three years of the country’s history of war and oppression through the eyes of two women with minute details that jump into you and seem so real. You also feel the pain and anguish as you read along and begins to hate the oppressors as much as the other characters in the book. Women in the old Afghanistan were forced into marriage at an early age. At the time of the communists’ rule back in the seventies, women were given the chance to be educated, they were more free and had more rights than they ever had before. But during the Taliban rule, they were not even allowed to practice their profession or to work, they cannot even leave their houses alone.
There were so many quotable quotes in the book but the lines that really moved me were these:
“She sat on the chair instead, hands limp in her lap, eyes staring at nothing, and let her mind fly on. She let it fly on until it found the place, the good and safe place, where the barley fields were green, where the water ran clear and the cottonwood seeds danced by the thousands in the air; where Babi was reading a book beneath an acacia and Tariq was napping with his hands laced across his chest, and where she could dip her feet in the stream and dream good dreams beneath the watchful gate of gods of ancient, sun-bleached rock.”
The book was divided into four parts. And here is a brief summary of the book:
Mariam grew up believing that she was an unwanted child, a harami, which means bastard, illegitimate, born to a rich father, Jalil and a mother, Nana, who was a housekeeper in her father’s house. Mother and daughter lived in an isolated place and they were occasionally visited and provided for by her father. When she turned fifteen, her father promised to take her to his cinema in Herat. Her mother pleaded with her not to go but she ventured all alone into town until she found her father’s house. She saw him looking out of the window but she was not allowed to enter the house. Upon her return, she found out that her mother hanged herself in their backyard.
She was not welcome in her father’s house so his three wives found a way to get rid of her by marrying her off to a man almost thirty years her senior. She vowed that from that time on, she will forget her father. She was taken by Rasheed to Kabul. At first, Rasheed was nice and cordial to her but when she lost the child she was carrying, the true colors of her husband showed. She was treated like a servant. The abuse worsened over the years through several failed pregnancies. She began to live a life of misery in the hands of her husband.
Laila was the daughter of Mariam’s neighbors. She was born during the turbulent years of the Soviets rule in Afghanistan. Her father Hakim, a school teacher valued education and told her that a society has no chance of success if its women are not educated. She did not get on much with her mother Tarifa whom she called Mammy. They were both “pretending, unenthusiastic partners”. She felt more at home with her childhood friend’s Tariq’s parents. Her world changed when her two soldier brothers died in combat. Ahmad and Noor were like lore to her – mere characters in a fable, kings in a history book. For young as she was(she was nine when they died), she felt so neglected by her Mammy who was the most affected by the death of her two sons. They fell more and more apart. Tarifa forgot that she still had a daughter who was a mere shadow in her sons’ existence, “the parchment on which Mammy meant to ink their legends”. She was not the reason why her mammy wanted to live on and she could never leave her mark on Mammy’s heart the way her brothers had.
A few months before Laila turned eleven, the Soviets finally left Afghanistan. The Mijahideen, the returning forces fighting the Soviets incited a civil war. Kabul was bombarded by rocket attacks. It was at this time that the two best friends Laila and Tariq grew closer and discovered their deep love for each other. Tariq’s family left Kabul and she was distraught when she learned that even her beloved Tariq (supposedly) died before crossing the border to Pakistan. Laila was the only one left when their house was bombarded by the rebels and she was pregnant with Tariq’s child. Rasheed, Mariam’s husband took care of her and offered marriage against the wishes of his wife. Rather than go hungry, without a future for her unborn child, she agreed despite the gap of almost forty six years. At first, Mariam resented Laila but through the times that they were mistreated and abused by their husband Rasheed, they finally forged a bond amidst all the hardships of making a life with the former. Mariam learned to love Laida’s children, they showed strength of character in a place where only violence and hunger prevailed. When she reached her 23rd birthday (they were now under Taliban rule), Tariq came back to her life and she learned that through the ten years that they were apart, Tariq spent some of it in prison. When Rasheed learned about this, he was so livid with anger and almost killed Laila in the process. Mariam, seeing red killed him to protect themselves from further hurt and pain. She did a great sacrifice for Laila’s sake and was hanged later. Laila, her daughter by Tariq Aziza and her son by Rasheed Zalmai crossed the border to Pakistan to live a new life but they came back to Kabul after the Taliban rule. Laila visited the place where Mariam was born and raised and there she discovered that Jalil afterall, loved her daughter very much and even wrote her a letter and left a small inheritance before he died.