The decades long civil war in Afghanistan has provided fodder for numerous bestsellers. Of those that I have read, none is more affecting than A Thousand Splendid Suns. Author Khaled Hosseini takes the title from a poem about Kabul by the seventeenth-century Afghan poet Saib-e-Tabrizi:
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls
This poem, and this book, sadden me. Kabul was once a beautiful, cosmopolitan city; it was a center of learning and culture. Foreign invasion and internal strife have turned Kabul, and much of Afghanistan, into rubble. The Soviets, the mujahadeen, the Taliban, have repressed and brutalized the Afghani people, particularly the women.
Hosseini writes movingly of the lives of two Afghani women. The elder, Mariam, was born in 1959 outside the city of Herat, in northeast Afghanistan. She is the illegitimate child of a wealthy man (who already has three wives) and one of his servants. Laila was born in 1978 in Kabul, the youngest child of a university-educated teacher and his wife. At the age of 15, Mariam is given in marriage to Rasheed, a 45 year old widower. He brings her to his home in Kabul.
As the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war make life more and more difficult for the residents of Kabul, the lives of Mariam and Laila intersect in a profound and dramatic way. Afghanis suffer in poverty and ignorance for decades, while their country is used as a pawn by foreign superpowers. Their leaders, in turn, brutalize the people with regressive laws, based supposedly on Koranic principles.
This is a moving story of war, poverty, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption. I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it!
Published in hardcover-Riverhead Books-2007
Softcover edition-Bloomsbury Publishing-2007