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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: Book Thoughts

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I have read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini a few times already, and each time I read it, I look at it with new eyes and feeling.

The book is the second by the author who made his debut with The Kite Runner, of course yet another favorite. I have read all three books by the author, including his latest offering that came out last year, titled And The Mountains Echoed. You may read the review HERE.

With A Thousand Splendid Suns, I will not attempt a review. That's why I never have tried talking about this book in so long, as with The Kite Runner. There is something  so intense and so personal in these books (not to say that I have the same lives as the protagonists who live in these books, but that it touches me so much), I never try to get down to a review.

Once you come out with a book and it turns out to be a hit, releasing that second book with as much or more expectation is always a Herculean task. It's like falling into that so familiar trap that many amazing first time authors have been devoured in. But the beauty of Hosseini's second book is that it surpasses what it set out to do in the first book - it smashes all expectations and raises the bar yet again.

The story is essentially Mariam's story - born a bastard and living with her mother, Nana, in a ramshackle hut at the edge of the city. Her 'father' is a wealthy man, and Mariam's mother was employed in his household, till her belly swelled and he set her up in this forsaken place. Of course each month her guilt-ridden father Jalil sends a wheelbarrow laden with the month's supplies, brought
by his two 'legitimate' sons. Jalil visits his daughter regularly, and those visits are the only highlight of Mariam's life, who idolizes her father and cannot understand why her mother is so unwilling to talk about him or does not bother to fawn over him. In fact, when her mother tells her that she should know her place and not dream of some day living with her father, Mariam feels her mother is one of the most cruel and hard-hearted person evern.
In her desire to be loved and accepted by the father she looks up to, Mariam leaves her mother and goes to live with her father. Broken and alone, her mother commits suicide in the forsaken place where she lives alone. Mariam's illusion is broken when her father marries her off to an 'old' man who is more than 20 years her senior. He is a relatively wealthy man and has his own house and business, and expects his wife to be in a burqa, covered, as her face is only her husband's business. He says nothing of the many women he regularly checks out in the hidden magazines that Mariam discovers, where women are splayed out in various conditions of undress.

From living a life at the edge of town to coming to live in a town with a husband, Mariam descends into a life of abuse, terror, loneliness and a feeling of being a nothing. Then one day, Laila enters their household and equations are changed, with a growing relationship between the two women with the angry man ruling them both.

Hosseini's book is a gruesome, harsh and sad but very real account of the suffocating conditions women suffer in most parts of the world, and especially in the countries that are now unfortunately being suffocated by the burqa. His story draws much from real events that happen in the world around.

Women not allowed to go anywhere without being accompanied by a male - this is very much a situation in many countries these days, and even it is not always 'enforced,' the abuse and safety threats that are women are facing world over is making them go out more in the 'safe' company of men. See around you and you will notice male relatives and friends accompany females, especially after dark or even in the day. Its a shame what it has come to.

Women's bodies are essentially considered the property of the men in their lives. Before marriage, what they wear, what they do and how they carry themselves is decided by the males in their family. Once they are married, the decision making is immediately transferred to their husbands. There is no decision power left to the woman. In most families, whether or not a woman will work (and I mean out of home, she constantly works at home, both before and after marriage, but of course these things are never considered as working) is also decided by the man in her family - dad, brother, husband, father in law, son.

Domestic violence, abuse (both mental and physical) are routine, and many countries consider marital rape as not a criminal act. Your husband has complete authority over your body, whether you want it or not, whether you say a yes or a no.

With all these conditions being widely prevalent across countries, I am sure Hosseini's book can well be called non-fiction. But alas, fiction is what we will call it for now.

No matter how dismal life turns, there is still hope, there is still friendship, there can still be love. Dream your dreams is what Khaled Hosseini tells you through A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Read it if you haven't okay?

- Debolina Raja Gupta