“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”
– Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
I remember not how I first heard of Khaled Hosseini but I do recall how I was immediately drawn to him. Perhaps because he’s a fellow Northern Californian, or was it his vibrant immigrant story that piqued my curiosity? Whatever it was, my first encounter with his literary dexterity was in the pages of The Kite Runner, a novel I erroneously thought of as a biographical account of his life. I mean, there were so many similarities with his life! I rooted for the survival of his friendship with Hassan. I loved Hassan as fiercely as I hated Amir when Amir’s unspeakable sins unfolded. I prayed furiously for their safe passage through the mountains of Afghanistan (or was it Pakistan) to their eventual asylum to the United States. I applauded him so hard when he finally sought redemption. “There is a way to be good again, Amir jan”. Imagine my shock when I realized it was fiction!
That was about eight years ago. By now, I know that Hosseini is a master when it comes to exquisitely weaving together historical facts, heroic protagonists and relatable characters while taking you into a seemingly endless emotional ride. Now, I came face to face with him again. This time, through the eyes of Laila and Mariam, the protagonists of his second book. And just like before, he broke my heart again. I was there with Laila and Mariam in Kabul when the Russians invaded, when the mujaheedins fought back, when the country was coming apart at the seams as the warring ethnic factions continued to fight, when the Taliban took over and finally, when the US forces arrived. My soul died as Laila’s and Mariam’s innocence were snatched away from them, around the same time that Kabul was being raped by relentless wars. I wanted to fight for them. I wanted to save them from the loathsome, wretched and hellish life they were in. I wanted to take arms for the Afghan women.
My life growing up was difficult but it’s cakewalk now compared to Mariam’s and Laila’s lives. Although it’s fiction, it’s still based on historical facts. Because of this, it’s quite likely that the things he portrayed in the book happened, in one form or another, to real women of Afghanistan. The concept and the extent of their sufferings are so foreign to me. The very things I consider normal in life, so normal in fact that I am in constant danger of taking them for granted, things such as freedom and women’s rights – for them, they are illusory at best, vehemently violated at worst. And to think that the only thing that separated my fate from theirs was the luck of the draw – the fact that I was “lucky” enough to be born in a different place and time.
“A thousand splendid suns” is a novel about powerful love, broken relationships, the inhumane suffering of the Afghan women, the unbreakable bond that gets forged between friends, the beautiful ethnic colors that is the Afghan people and the endless wars that pushed Afghanistan to the brink of extinction.
Khaled Hosseini is one of my favorite authors. He has the remarkable ability to pull you into the world of his characters, so hard that you would wanna fight and die for them. Once you start reading, you will never be able to stop. Consider yourself warned and proceed with caution 🙂
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