What can I say about Khaled Hosseini’s second novel? I absolutely loved The Kite Runner, though it also disturbed me and broke my heart into a million pieces. I had the same reaction to A Thousand Splendid Suns. While The Kite Runner was about two young boys, and one of those boys as a young man, Splendid Suns is about two women and how their lives come together in Afghanistan. Mariam, a 15-year-old with her own tragic past, is forced to marry Rasheed, a 40-year-old man, and move with him to Kabul. When she proves infertile, unable to produce the son he wants, Rasheed treats her far worse than a woman should ever be treated.
Eighteen years after Mariam marries Rasheed, their 14-year-old neighbor Laila loses her family in the bombings of the civil unrest that’s been going on for years. Rasheed takes her in, and soon marries her as well. The story continues through the years as the women grow to trust each other and join forces against their abusive husband. (I don’t want to give anymore away.)
I think I connected with the two female characters a bit better than the two boys in The Kite Runner, but the fact that Hosseini, a man, could make me feel that way demonstrates his skill as a writer. Reading about the abuse these women suffered was very difficult. Learning more about the anti-Soviet jihad and Taliban control over Afghanistan throughout some 30 years is also hard to bear, especially when I know that the scenes of this novel come from truth. Situations in this book actually happened/happen to real women and children in this part of the world. Sometimes it’s hard for me to love a book that makes me so sad (for example, A Fine Balance, which I’ll write about another time), but I’m able to love this book.