A Thousand Splendid Suns Review

A Thousand Splendid Suns Review–KHALED HOSSEINI
– by Kat Ngoi


I could never see a burqa-wearing woman quite the same way again after reading Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini (famed for his success of The Kite Runner) unveils to my distress, the scathing injustices, discrimination and misogynistic abuses endured and suffered daily by women born into a life of misery so remote and far removed from my sheltered one.  A work of fiction yet one that so vividly encapsulates the realities and humiliating existence lived by millions of Afghan women from many patriarchal tribal regions—all of which are deeply and personally disturbing to one who has always taken my basic civil freedoms for granted. Freedoms accorded to women in Singapore where I was blessed to be born in and now in the great southland I call home, Australia. The most basic liberties I enjoy such as a woman’s right to education, careers, marriage out of free choice, free speech, even something as trivial as going outdoors without being fully clad ninja-style and strolling unaccompanied by a male relative is unheard of in places like regional Afghanistan.

pic credit static.guim.co.uk
pic credit static.guim.co.uk

And this is why I love to read fiction. This book is perhaps the very proof that reading fiction (not just The Financial Times) can sometimes best capture for us the complexities of our lives and heightens our sensitivity and appreciation towards others different from us and in doing so, helps remove those scales off our eyes.

We can’t deny that since 9-11, life could never be the same again. Hate crimes, prejudices, racial and religious animosity continue towards people of Arab, Middle Eastern descent and Muslims in general. Behind a pinched and narrowed perspective, little do most regular people realise the Afghan refugee crisis is one of the most adverse in the world—only that it isn’t ‘poster-worthy’ like starving India or Africa, hence the indifference. Religious extremism, war, hunger, anarchy and oppression plague them too and have driven millions abroad as refugees. Few stop to consider that with suffering so real and rife, the majority do not condone violence or the taking of innocent lives anymore than you or I do.  

As George Bernard said, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

I felt compelled to share this in the hope that eyes and hearts remain open to pray for them, especially its women and children.
We are all children of God and do face the same unseen evil.

The Bible puts it clearly. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. Ephesians 6:12

As a work of fiction, A Thousand Splendid Suns has been for me a riveting, sorrowful read that so graphically portrays the Taliban-style oppression of women way before the Taliban/Osama Bin Laden even existed. The debasement, crimes and prejudices indiscriminately shelled out particularly to women is appalling and heinous.  This is a complex novel that was life-changing for me, like any good book is—one that reaches and searches deep inside and asks those perplexing but pertinent questions.

Khaled Hosseini shattered my heart with this emotionally demanding, poignant and intense story of tragedy and injustice relieved only by strong themes of family, friendship, love and eventually hope amidst hopelessness, woven with masterful fictional storytelling coupled with three decades of turbulent Afghan history. Be forewarned, as heartbreaking as it is depressing on so many levels, Hosseini’s adroit writing style will compel even the most impatient readers to keep turning the pages.

The title of the novel couldn’t be more apt for Hosseini’s tribute to the beleaguered Afghanistan that continues to battle on for survival and rebuilding despite its repeated ravages. Translated casually from Farsi into English, the title is derived from a seventeenth-century Persian poet, Saeb-e-Tabrizi, to describe a beloved land:

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.

While The Kite Runner was a centred on fathers and sons, this one was written for mothers and daughters observed through the tragically woven lives of Mariam and Laila—two vastly different protagonists who, though divided in generation and social upbringing, were bonded through joint adversity and one common enemy. As a woman, mother and daughter with a little girl of my own, I couldn’t help but be emotionally vested in this story of personal relationships, feminine struggles, the complexities, conflicts and often gender bias faced by women in their varied domestic and societal roles, the personal aspirations, hopes and dreams women carry in their hearts.

Like the finale of this turbulent story, my prayer is that love and hope always wins ultimately and may God’s love propel people to act in unexpected ways to bring peace and overcome unimaginable trauma, hardship, pain and evil.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS (paperback), Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury, London, 2007, 402 pages.

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