Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of an Herat businessman and one of his maids, who, after the death of her mother finds herself married to a shoemaker and moved from her home to the city of Kabul. Disillusioned by her father and broken by her husband, Mariam survives the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Laila is the daughter of one of Mariam’s neighbours who grows up with a virtually absent mother and a father who believes that education is the key to Laila’s success in life. With an unusual homelife, the one person she relies on is her beloved friend Tariq, but when the Russians leave and the civil war starts, his family decide flee the country. The book follows the stories of the two women, and how their destinies become entwined, in a tale of love and friendship through the nightmare existence in which they live.
This is Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, following the hugely successful “The Kite Runner”, which told the tale of two boys growing up in Afghanistan, and the devastating effects the decision of one of them will have on both their lives. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” has many similarities to the first novel, in that it is again set in Hosseini’s native Afghanistan, and tells us of life in that country by how it affects the daily lives of two inhabitants, rather than a bigger view of the wars, invasions and violence that exists all around them. Told from the female perspective, we see a different side to life in Kabul, and how the lifestyles of its women are affected by the different regimes, as well as the men in their own household, and how they attempt to control their own fates in a male dominated society. It is an engrossing book to read, and the style of writing allows the story to wash over you, so that while you feel the horror of some of the situations the women find themselves in, it is never so horrifying that you don’t want to carry on and learn how their stories will end. But, it is the end of the book which is slightly disappointing. I felt that the conclusion was a bit of a cop out, as the authors attempts to give us an uplifting, hopeful view of the potential of Afghanistan, rather than a truthful, genuine ending to the story of the two women.
Definitely worth reading, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others, particularly if they’ve read and loved “The Kite Runner”.