Dr. Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns touched my heart deeply. Having personally known an Afghan family, this story held intense relevance for me. In both his first blockbuster novel, The Kite Runner, and in this, his second book, Dr. Hosseini vividly portrays the evolution of the Taliban and its impact on the local Afghani populace.
This is at heart a woman's lament. Written with great insight and empathy, the book chronicles the lives of 3 women. Nana, Miriam and Laila. The story opens in pre-Soviet Afghanistan. 15 year old Miriam and her Nana live on the outskirts of town, in a home built by Miriam's father Jalil. Jalil lives in town with his three wives and 9 children, and visits his illegitimate daughter, Miriam once a week.
Nana, a bitter, hurt and cynical woman loves the child deeply, but cannot show it. In trying to protect her from the harsh realities she's faced, she manages to hurt Miriam and ultimately alienate her. When Jalil fails to show up for his weekly visit, Miriam, after a fierce argument with Nana, runs away to find her beloved father.
The consequences for Miriam are utterly devastating, and impact the rest of her life. Pushed into a forced marriage with a man named Rasheed, Miriam travels literally hundreds of kilometers away from her home to Kabul. As she struggles to come to terms with it all, she begins to see the burq as a loving and protective garment, designed to help shield her from life's dangers. But it can't protect her from her husband. After multiple miscarriages, Rasheed becomes cold and physically abusive. In one nightmare scene deftly sketched by Dr. Hosseini, Rasheed angered over a poor pot of rice, forces her to chew garden stones, breaking teeth.
Skillfully the author brings the two main characters, Laila and Miriam together, entwining their loves and lives like a silken rope. Laila, who lives with her adoring father ( Babi) and her emotionally disturbed mother Farida, has enormous responsibilities. Her only brother has died in the Soviet/Afghan wars, which causes her mother to slide into a deep depression. All Laila has is the love of her Babi and Fariq, a childhood sweetheart. As the Taliban slowly begins to exert a stranglehold in Afghanistan, Fariq and Laila become closer, both as lovers and friends.
The authors talent and gift for portraying the human condition shine in the stunning and sad conclusion. There are no facile or pat answers to resolve the plight of the women, offered here. No prince on a white horse comes to save them. Instead we get a deep and penetrating portrayal of women's lives. And a powerful and timeless message. Love is all that matters, no matter who we are, or where we live.