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Book Review: Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye.
Through the bazaar, 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 title of Khaled Hosseini’s book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem ‘Kabul’ by the 17th century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi.

Good writers like Khaled Hosseini always explain the motivations of the antagonists in the story. No one is purely evil or purely good and the antagonists actions are always postulated with a bit of back history. Rasheed the main antagonist in A Thousand Splendid Suns, is violent and cruel but we come to understand his actions through the death of his son and the frustration of being unable to father another son as he grows old.

The startling brutality and oppression of the Taliban Afghanistan, especially against women, can be regarded as another antagonist of the book, which can also be said of Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. But Hosseini has the ability to portray this time in Afghanistan history with a depth of understanding and warmth for his home country and its people.

As a strong independent woman the concept of life hidden under a Burqa in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime seems completely unreal and intolerable. This is also true for the two protagonists’ of Hosseni’s novel, Mariam and Laila, two strong women who live in a society of few choices but through each other find strength and courage to change their lives. Under the Taliban regime they are not allowed to work and are forced to stay with a violent husband (Rasheed). When Rasheed loses his job Laila has no choice but to put her young daughter into an orphange, a common act for widows who are not allowed to work even when their children are starving! Laila is beaten daily as she has the audacity to walk outside without a man as she attempts, often in vain, to visit her daughter at the orphanage. After a lifetime of decisions taken away from her, Mariam chooses to sacrifice her life for her friend Laila and her children.

I will never forget sitting outside a cafe in Egypt next door to an open slaughter-house. I was travelling with a few of the guys I had been working with on the dive boat, The Sun Boat, taking tourists on diving holidays along the Red Sea. I looked up and noticed a young woman staring at me under a loose black gown, called a niqab, which only showed her eyes. It suddenly dawned on me how few women I had actually seen on my short travels so far in Egypt. What I remember most is the way she looked at me. Her eyes held no malice just a sense of awe and incomprehension as she looked at me. What must I have looked like to her; a Western woman uncovered, free to make my own choices in life, a life she understood that would always be out of her reach.

That evening as I sat alone at the back of the Sun Boat watching the sun set on the Red Sea as it sailed away from the port of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, I had learnt that I had more choices than I had previously thought. I have come to believe that the world is more open than I thought it was, and that sometimes the only bars around you are the ones you create for yourself!

 

Written by Amanda FitzRoy

 

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