By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #37 – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Sometimes, reading a book makes me aware how little I know about the world. Khaled Hosseini's novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is about war-torn Afghanistan, and it shows how much I still have to learn.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to live in a country ravaged by war? I’m so happy I have no idea, living in a country that has not been at war for over seventy years. I am aware of how lucky I am, though. I recently read Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is about two women in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan, and it made me realise I couldn’t possibly imagine what it would be like to fear for my life every single day. Want to know what it’s about? Read on!

A Thousand Splendid Suns follows the lives two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, who live in Kabul and try to overcome war, occupation, death, and an abusive marriage. Both women, married to the same abusive man, have to deal with living in a city torn apart by war and with a government which forces women to wear a veil. Eventually, only the love they have for each other, almost as though they were mother and daughter, is what saves them.

Whenever Afghanistan is on the news, people might shake their heads, or claim that they must have brought this seemingly everlasting war upon themselves. They might hate the country because the men in charge don’t allow women any kind of voice. They might consider all Afghans terrorists, because they are portrayed as such by some media. Well, I would advise them to read this novel.

I have learned so much about Afghanistan, its history and culture, and its women, by reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. I hardly knew anything about Afghanistan before I read this novel. Of course, I knew about the situation in Afghanistan, and about the Taliban, and about their views on women, but I never knew it was this bad. I didn’t know that Kabul used to be a relatively liberal city, and that women could go to university before the Taliban showed up. I didn’t even know that there had already been several attempts at restoring women’s rights since the 1920s, all of which unsuccessful.

There are so many things I don’t know. I blame it on myself, because I’m not interested enough in other cultures, and because I’m living in a country which hasn’t been at war for seventy years. I blame it on my education, and on the media. I wish I had known more about Afghanistan before I read A Thousand Splendid Suns, because then the things I read would not have been this shocking.

In the postscript of this novel, Khaled Hosseini writes about how the success of The Kite Runner, his previous novel which also dealt with the effects of war, caused people to send the author mail expressing their sympathies with the Afghan refugees, some of whom even wanting to let him know they would like to adopt an Afghan orphan. A couple of lines after that, Hosseini writes what I was already thinking: this is why fiction matters.

Unlike newspaper articles, fiction has the power to bring people together. Those who might usually consider the Afghans inferior to other people, might also find themselves bursting into tears while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. That’s because, through Mariam and Laila, we learn about what it’s like to live in a country torn apart by wars. We can sympathise with these made-up characters, because we see the world through their eyes, and we get a glimpse of what real life must be like out there.

I can’t stand watching violence (real or fictional) when I see it on tv, but usually I don’t mind reading about it. This time, however, I sometimes wanted to put the book down because it was too brutal, and too realistic. I often sighed loudly while reading, because even though I knew A Thousand Splendid Suns is fiction, I knew it was based on real events, on real lives, even though we don’t know exactly whose. I was aware of the fact that countless people, most of whom women, were, and still are, faced daily with terrible violence and abuse, but this novel reminded me of it. I sometimes had to force myself to continue reading, but eventually I realised that Hosseini’s novel is not depressing, but uplifting instead.

That’s because A Thousand Splendid Suns isn’t about politics and about the brutalities of war. It’s not a newspaper article. Instead, it is a novel which, above all else, celebrates love. It is about the love between two women whom fate has brought together, who consider each other mother and daughter. It is about the love between children and their parents, about the love between men and women, and, maybe above all else, the love for a city. Despite being under constant threat, they consider Kabul their home, and all the good things that happened there. I can’t imagine what that must be like, but I’m glad I’ve read about it.

I have learned so much from A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have learned about the history of Afghanistan, about its culture, about Kabul, about how women were treated, about the Taliban, about war, and about survival. But I guess the most important lesson we could learn from this novel is that, whatever happens, and how bleak our lives may seem, love will always conquer everything.

What did you think of A Thousand Splendid Suns? Which book taught you much about a culture you didn’t know much about? Let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book musings!

This series of pictures is supposed to represent the veil Afghan women have to wear when they leave their homes. I wanted to show that Khaled Hosseini showed us what happened behind them, thus slowly lifting them. The more I read in A Thousand Splendid Suns, the more I felt my ignorance being lifted, too. The colours weren’t chosen at random, of course; the black and white represents how easy it is to judge those we know nothing about. It’s a lesson I have to repeat to myself more often than I’d like to admit.

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