Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of the most infuriating, yet heart-touching books I have ever read. Hosseini is like a contemporary Ernest Hemingway. He writes in brutal short strokes and creates images that you cannot even comprehend.
Published in 2007, the title ATSS originates from a line in Josephine Davis’ interpretation of the poem Kabul by seventeenth-century Iranian writer Saib Tabrizi:
“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”
The novel tells the tale of two generations. Mariam is a child born out of wedlock, who experiences the shame encompassing her birth alongside the maltreatment she faced all through her marriage. Laila, brought into the world a decade later, is relatively advantaged amid her childhood. Their lives meet when Laila becomes a second wife to Mariam’s spouse, Rasheed.
This is not the kind of novel that can be picked up and read as a time pass on a rainy day. It is a novel that should be read with heart. ATSS is not a life-changing book but it is close to that. This is the type of story that gradually weaves its ideas and builds up its story in time. And the moment you think the book is tying up loose strings, it switches up its pace and hits you in the gut.
Hosseini’s narration in ATSS is breathtaking. The composition is dazzling without being wordy, and the characters are perfectly fleshed out and genuinely real. It’s one of those uncommon books that are quite despairing and have you in tears throughout.
The language and vocabulary used in this novel relate more to Afghani and Muslim cultures as opposed to American culture. And while this novel is set in Afghanistan there are still many American pop culture references like Titanic and Disney films.
There was not a single part of ATSS that I did not like. Both the main characters Mariam and Laila had my heart. It is a story of expectation and the resilience of the human soul. The strength of the two main characters in this story made me genuinely understand that what characterizes a woman, especially under harsh circumstances, is her choices and her actions, and that’s it.
Hosseini uses the imagery of weeds and limestone to describe Mariam’s growth from an abused child to a strong and loving woman. From the beginning of the novel, Mariam was constantly described as a weed that should be dug up and thrown aside. Even her mother saw her as disposable, she was something that did not fit into the social order and people ignored her because of that.
All her life Mariam never believed in love. In fact, she described love and hope as “twin poisonous flowers” that she uprooted whenever they sprouted inside her. It wasn’t until Laila and her daughter Aziza came into Mariam’s life that she understood what it feels to love and be loved. This was when she evolved from a weed to a limestone; not be ignored or tossed aside.
ATSS taught me that suffering is what makes us strong enough to face the world and all its hardships. Mariam was the best example of this as her life was incredibly unfair. Honestly, more than unfair, but her personality was so wonderful that it broke my heart. She knows that misfortune was ingrained in her life but she remained strong, kind and humble throughout.
I was heartbroken when I read the book but it won’t stop me from reading it again and again. It portrays the genuine essence of humanity and Hosseini did so beautifully.
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