Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Review: "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini

Having read and enjoyed "The Kite Runner" last summer, I picked up "A Thousand Splendid Suns" when it first hit the charts. I didn't get the chance to read it until a recent cold gave me a bit of extra time next to my night stand. It was worth the wait.

"The Kite Runner" was an impressive mixture of personal and historical drama, and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" mines the same vein. "A Thousand Splendid Suns" is also a story about Afghanistan, and covers much of the same time period, but where "Kite Runner" focused on the lives of the central character and the men in his life, in "Suns", the lives of four generations of women take center stage.

The fortunes of women in Afghanistan vary from the 1970s until the early 2000s. At the low point, a career, education, choice of husband, even the freedom to walk the streets unaccompanied are all denied to women. Even at the high point, the freedom to pursue any of these things is largely determined by the men in a woman's life.

With war as a constant backdrop, life becomes a daily exercise in loss, and a daily struggle for survival. Resources for women in this society are a luxury in good times, like education and music, and a burden in bad times. The shocking conditions at the womens' hospital in Kabul and the consignment of a female child to an orphanage to leave more food for the male child are especially striking examples.

Hosseini is obviously a gifted storyteller. He takes what must have been an overwhelming flood of stories from the lives of Afghani refugees and distills them down to a compelling handful of threads that make the point without quite overwhelming the reader.

This is a great book, and a quick read. Highly recommended.

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