A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini has been sitting in my office unread since around 2007 when it was published. Now, with the U.S war in Afghanistan winding down, I wanted to read it. It takes place in late twentieth century Afghanistan, through to the bombing of the World Trade Center. On the cover is an image of the back of a woman in a burka standing on a hill overlooking what is most likely Kabul, Afghanistan. The two women narrators in the book are in their early teens when the story begins.
Most Americans, young or old, have patchy knowledge of what daily life might be for a woman in a war torn country like Afghanistan. Keeping track of who is killing who among warlords and other factions is difficult. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, dead or injured relatives abound, usually well before the age of twenty in the lives of most kids. But there is also a love story that feels very much like Romeo and Juliet.
The novel is written from the alternating perspective of two Afghani women, Miriam and Laila, both children when the book begins.
Through their stories, a teen reader can glimpse what it might really be like to be forced into loveless marriage as a young teen, to stay at home everyday and never attend school. What does the world look like through the mesh of a burka, to feel the safety of being invisible?
The book was very positively reviewed in the New York Times, though the writing, in the reviewer's opinion, had flaws. For instance the book, "features some embarrassingly hokey scenes . . . and some genuinely heart-wrenching scenes that help redeem the overall story."
I felt the book was honest and evocative and well worth reading. I grew to love these two girl/women characters and admire their will to survive in such a bleak setting.
If Hosseini intended to educate through fiction, he succeeded. The story would be of great interest to teen readers.