Khaled Hosseini,
A Thousand Splendid Suns
(Riverhead, 2007)

Upon completing Khaled Hosseini's 2003 debut novel, The Kite Runner, I arrived under the sneaking suspicion that Hosseini had accidentally completed the very error that so many authors -- not just in fiction writing, but also in other media -- make of their careers: they produce their greatest work first. And though they may remain partially in the spotlight for some time afterwards, or in fact for the majority of their careers, the generally accepted belief remains that they put their all into the debut, and just couldn't save enough creative juices for even better future projects.

When I finished Hosseini's followup, the 2007 tear-jerker A Thousand Splendid Suns, I stood very much corrected. His sophomore effort is simply better -- a fantastic achievement, considering that just weeks ago I was praising the brilliance of Hosseini's debut. Not to overshadow The Kite Runner, because that novel still comes highly recommended, A Thousand Splendid Suns is perhaps the most beautiful -- yet undeniably tragic -- story I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Like in his debut, Hosseini's second novel explores Afghanistan's society in its three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and unbelievable cruelty at the hands of the Taliban after the chaotic fall of the Afghan monarchy in 1973. However, instead of following the coming-of-age story of a young boy growing up during the period, this time Hosseini focuses his attention on the opposite sex, and with two characters, Mariam and Laila, who are thrown together by fate.

The former, a 15-year-old girl who loses her mother to suicide, is forced to move to Kabul and marry 40-year-old Rasheed, where abuse assuredly follows. The latter, a 14-year-old girl, becomes Rasheed's second wife 20 years later when little Laila loses both parents to a stray bombing. But this soon-to-be-hectic living arrangement doesn't come into play until well into the novel. The first and second parts delve into the heartbreaking pasts of both women, with the latter half concerning itself with the implications of an additional woman in the household.

Now, some would argue Hosseini takes quite the risk in writing about a sex of which he is not a part. But even so -- not that I am any expert in the daily life of Afghan women -- I am convinced Hosseini's dual portrayals are very much authentic. And he examines the issues that many Afghan women must deal with while growing up in the war-torn country: forced marriage, protection from the husband, mandatory wearing of burqas, abuse, town gossip, jealousy amongst housewives and desire to have children. Nothing is swept under the rug here, as Hosseini ensures he covers the entire scope of Afghan womanhood in the telling of his parallel stories.

Besides the plot and narrative, partly why I enjoyed this story more was due to the polished quality of Hosseini's work. Not that it felt like the author was merely going through the motions in the telling of a good story, it wasn't that at all. Instead, you could tell he simply knew what he was doing -- like he had done the whole novel business before, which of course, he had. So easily and effortlessly, Hosseini jumps from the mind of one character to that of another. And Hosseini's ability to develop two distinctive, yet incredibly engaging back stories for both women -- each with their own cast of characters -- is particularly impressive.

Hosseini is a masterful storyteller, and I patiently await his next effort. Because as A Thousand Splendid Suns has taught me, Hosseini is no one-hit wonder.

review by
Eric Hughes

20 September 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new