A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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Khaled Hosseini has been on my radar for a while now. For months (years actually) I’ve had A Thousand Splendid Suns, And The Mountains Echoed, and The Kite Runner on my reading list. But my reading list is an evolving one- it’s actually a spreadsheet organized and sorted by fiction/nonfiction, genre, Amazon rating, Goodreads rating, and my own “personal rating.” I know this sounds slightly crazy, but I actually got the idea from a girl that one of my friends went on a date with once. He asked her where she would like to go out for dinner, and she sent him an Excel spreadsheet with a list of restaurants that were sorted and highlighted into a bunch of different categories. I forget if they ever went on a second date, but I was inspired to use a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I want to read. Basically every time I add a book to my list I enter the Amazon and Goodreads rating and I score the book on a scale of 1 to 5 on how excited I am to read it. Periodically I revise the personal scores based on my interests at the time, like if I’m in the mood for a romance novel or historical fiction or something a little more intellectual. And it’s been so helpful; every time I finish a book I generally know what I’m going to read next.

So Hosseini’s books have been on my list for a while, but until recently they’ve been edged out by my always-changing personal score. Recently, however, I’ve been reading more feminist literature (partly in thanks to Emma Watson, which I’ll discuss in a later post) and I bumped A Thousand Splendid Suns up to the top because at its heart it centers around two females who are brought together through tragedy and circumstance.

And what tragedy. What circumstance. What heart-wrenching lives these women lived. What hope persisted throughout the story despite all the tragedy. A Thousand Splendid Suns made me feel on so many levels, and as I read I kept trying to categorize the relationships and themes to try to put a label on what I was feeling. In the beginning it was about daughters and mothers, and daughters and fathers, then husbands and wives, then parents again, then friends and romance, and I eventually gave up trying to put a label on everything because part of what made this story beautiful was the web of relationships and connectivity of themes and the elegant way in which everything was brought together.

I have so much respect for Hosseini as a writer. It takes real talent to weave a story like this together in such a simple yet profound way. It really is a beautiful story, full of love despite the traumatic setting. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a writer, whether it’s a short story or novel, and this book is proof that I have such a long way to go. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to develop a style like this, it’s just amazing to me.

The two main characters in the novel, Mariam and Laila, are women that I would love to meet if they existed in real life. Their capacity to endure, to hope, to protect is beyond anything I can imagine in my own life. I find them inspiring, and I feel for them. I know that this is a work of fiction, but I am sure there are real women who have lived at least parts of this story, and I send good thoughts to whoever and wherever they are.

Other than the various kinds of overwhelming love portrayed in this story, the other main emotion I felt was guilt. A Thousand Splendid Suns spans over three decades of Afghan history, and to be completely honest this was my first exposure to much of that history. Before this book, most of what I knew about Afghanistan was learned from CNN news stories that my mom started watching after 9/11, and I find that embarrassing. It makes me feel incredibly naïve and somewhat uneducated; I keep thinking back to my history classes in high school, wondering if there was a section I blocked out, but I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think I was ever taught much about Afghanistan, and I never tried to seek it out myself.

This book made me uncomfortably aware of how trivial the things are in my life that I worry about. Compared to others, and especially compared to the women in this story, I’m an incredibly privileged person to be living the life I have. Though I’m generally aware of that fact I felt that it was really thrown at me throughout the book, which I believe is a good thing. I feel more inspired to do some good in the world, to be more aware and educated about what is happening, and most importantly to be truly grateful for everything I have. Mariam and Laila had their worlds turned upside down so many times and in so many different ways, and yet they kept going. They loved, they hoped, they endured, and their unrelenting bravery in the face of hardship makes them some of the best heroines I’ve read about in some time.

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