I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns last night by resisting the lure of sleep and reading until my eyes were burning. It was so worth it.
The story is set in modern Afghanistan and follows the lives of two young women over the course of three decades starting with the illegitimate Mariam who is fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry a successful shoemaker, Rasheed, who is 45 at the time of their wedding. Many years later, following personal tragedy, their beautiful neighbour Laila, who is also just fifteen, moves in with them. Initially distrustful of each other, circumstances mean that the women grow to love and protect one another against a backdrop of political upheaval in their country.
I always find it very hard in these circumstances to describe what it was that I found so good about a book without giving away spoilers. As I knew nothing about this book, other than being told I "must" read it by the friend who pressed it upon me a couple of weeks ago, I will do my best to leave anyone reading this post in the same state!
Hosseini writes this powerful story with talent and depicts the everyday lives of these two woman, and their supporting cast, with empathy and compassion. For me, what's remarkable about this book is that the plot is centred on the lives of just a handful of people living in a country where there must be thousands of women leading very similar lives. It also gives an insight into Afghan life over the last forty years or so that I found very troubling. I'd not realised the swift pace of change that's taken place there within just a couple of generations let alone just how extreme that the swing in political regimes was. Almost casual brutality is part of everyday life during war that ripped the country apart and in a very patriarchal society women and children suffer without recourse. I'd like to think that life was easier for people living in Kabul in 2008 however I suspect that it's not all that different.
Having enjoyed this book, I clearly should finally get around to reading The Kite Runner and I am positive that I have an un-read copy of The Bookseller of Kabul somewhere that might make another good companion piece.