About two weeks ago I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Novel I was so eager to read. In his bestselling debut The Kite Runner the accent is on the relationship between father and son and friendships between men, in this novel relationship between women is in the focus. Moreover Mr. Hosseini is precisely dedicated this novel “to the women of Afghanistan”.
This is a story of two women against the background of the last forty years in Afghanistan. Two women from completely different milieus but almost equally tragic destiny. Of course this can’t be different considering the problems their country has had. We see what means to be a harami (bastard) in the same country but under different circumstances. Either way it’s very hard but sometimes that might be a deadly mark. So from the very beginning we are confronted with the position of women in society where “like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always”.
There is one nice picture of Afghanistan before and then during Taliban rule and period of war against Soviets in between. Therefore we can see how life might be wealthy, the one we are more/less familiar with and not nearly like the images we have when think about nowadays Afghanistan. Namely, second main character is from a wealthy family who is investing in her education and has big planes for her. She has been raised in the “Western” tradition and does not share rigid and traditional Muslim customs. The ones which broke wings of the first woman and the ones which will some twenty years later inevitably knock on her door as well when series of horrifying events will unite destinies of these two women.
Under impossible repressive regime towards women where they must wear burqa, where education is forbidden, where there are no female doctors and male ones can only examine men, where they can’t leave the house without a man … the only salvation is friendship.
Indeed the story sometimes look soap-opera-ish: there is a saintly best friend who commits an act of enormous self-sacrifice to aid the heroine (as in The Kite Runner); romantic twists with sometimes ridiculous description of sexual awakening of young Laila and I’m afraid too many fairy-tale turns as if they were lifted from some B movie. Characters are one-dimensional that they feel like cartoons. Laila is the great beauty, with a doting father and a protective boyfriend — a lucky girl whose luck abruptly runs out. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a bitter woman and a disloyal father — an unlucky girl whose luck turns from bad to worse. There is just too many black/white characterizations.
Luckily Mr. Hosseini succeeds in making the emotional reality of Mariam and Laila’s lives tangible to us, and by conjuring their day-to-day routines, he is able to give us a sense of what daily life was like in Kabul — both before and during the harsh reign of the Taliban and for me that was the most valuable thing here.
He was describing Taliban “beard patrols”; despair of women who can’t find hospital where can be treated (or even give a birth); black market where one can buy forbidden things such are TV, music or movies. Very interesting was “Titanic” fewer in 2000 when parts of the town was named after the movie, also toothpaste, deodorant and (imagine this!) burqas! (recently I’ve read memoirs of girl who lived under Taliban regime “My Forbidden Face” by Latifa (pseudonym) and indeed she wrote about the same “Titanic” fewer)
In some weird way this story is very similar with the movie “Titanic”: They are living on the sinking ship desperately relying on clichés: childhood promises are sacred; true love never dies; justice will be done; sisterhood is powerful. Love will save us and sacrifice for love will always be awarded, in this or in afterlife. It’s very fairy-tale-ish, unrealistic and eventually hard-to-put-down-able story.