Book review: ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Is there a more tragic country than Afghanistan? “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was published in 2007. You are likely aware of some of what has happened there since then, including the American withdrawal. And the Taliban advances. Hosseini’s book speaks of what a tragedy awaits the country with Taliban Islamic rule, especially for women.

The story is set against the background of the history of Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion, the rule of the Taliban and the initial involvement of the United States. Miriam is the illegitimate child of one of Herat’s wealthiest men. He had three wives and nine legitimate children. But he came to visit Miriam on Thursdays.

The relationship became more problematic as Miriam got older and demanded more. Real problems developed when Miriam’s mother died. Her father’s family simply would not accept her. They had an answer, though. They found a suiter for her, a shoemaker, one of the most sought-after shoemakers in Kabul, according to her father’s three wives.

Rasheed was much older than Mariam. He had managed to buy his shop and home from his earnings. Further, he did give Miriam some time to adjust to the marriage, but he had sought a wife. As it turned out, he was pretty traditional, expecting all wifely duties around the house and the wearing of a burqa in public. “Where I come from a wife’s face is her husband’s business only. I want you to remember that. Do you understand?”

Several miscarriages later, not only was Mariam unable to have the boy Rasheed wanted, she could not have any children. It was Allah’s will, but it was hard to accept.

In 1978, when Miriam turned 19, she had been married four years. The communists overthrew the government, leaving Miriam to wonder if it was good or bad. What was bad, according to Rasheed, was the food she served him. And she was made to chew stones.

In part two, Laila is introduced. In 1986, she was 9 years old and spending much of her time with her friend Tariq. Her father emphasized education and explained that women were likely better off under the communists than they had ever been. Her mother, however, doted on the older brother, who was later killed fighting the Soviets. The Soviets left in 1989. 

In 1992, Laila turned 14. The jihad was over as the communist regimes were defeated. But the various factions of the Afghans were soon at war with one another. Tariq’s family decided to leave Kabul to the warring Afghans. Laila’s family’s decision to leave Kabul came too late, and both her parents were killed. Laila lost hearing in one ear and other injuries. After a lengthy hospitalization, Rasheed and Miriam took her in.

Rasheed was at least 60. Even so, he decided that the best course of action was to take a second wife, Laila. Laila agreed immediately as she was carrying Tariq’s child, the result of a parting act as he and his parents were leaving. Much to Rasheed’s disappointment, the baby was a girl. Laila did have a boy for Rashed later.

The relationship between Miriam and Laila makes up much of the rest of the book. Placed against Afghanistan’s history, there is much to tell.

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