I’ve just finished reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini, and just like his other book ‘The Kite Runner’ (which I had read a few years ago), it touched my heart. It was an enthralling, yet thought provoking read. It was intense and heartfelt and trademark Hosseini-it made me cry.
Both, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are literary masterpieces. They are must-reads, so I won’t reveal too much about them.
The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir; a Pashtun boy from Kabul who is desperate to improve his rapport with his father and his friendship with Hassan, the lowly Hazara son of his father’s servant. This story is set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and later, the Taliban rule.
A Thousand Splendid Suns follows the lives of Mariam and Laila, two women from different backgrounds and generations. Unfortunate events cause their paths to cross and a companionship is formed between the two. They find solace in each other and fight a common battle with astonishing bravery. This book too, is set against the turbulent Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban rule and the post Taliban restoration. It sheds light on these events from a feminine perspective.
Both these books are historical dramas. Hosseini succeeds in bringing historical facts to life through his storylines in a beautiful, poignant way. He has the ability to make a story come alive through his carefully chosen words. His words are deceptively superficial with hidden deeper meanings.
I find his writing impeccable. He always finds the right word, the right phrase to perfectly encapsulate an idea. It’s like, no matter how hard you try to, you can’t change a single word, because nobody could have said it better.
What I really love about Hosseini’s writing is his warm, understated humour. He doesn’t try to be a comedian, but weaves humour into his narrative with subtlety. It won’t have you rolling on the floor, but it is bound to bring an unassuming, wry smile to your lips.
However, Be Warned. That smile won’t last for long. Let me quote from The Kite Runner. “I’m so afraid. Because I’m so profoundly happy. Happiness like this is frightening. They only let you be this happy when they’re about to take something away from you.” I think Hosseini took this a little too seriously. Because, every time and I mean every time he makes you smile, be sure you are armed with a box of tissues. You are in for a sob fest. He will reduce you to tears. He will break your heart. His writing is so powerful that it rendered almost everything I’ve read insipid.
Even the reviews say as much:
“Hosseini is a truly gifted teller of tales…he’s not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing.”
-The Times on ‘The Kite Runner’
“Only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved”
-Glamour on ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’
The tragedy king’s novels offer a lesson in perspective. These books made me realize how lucky I am. The fact that I lead such a blessed life ‘both eases and breaks my heart’*.
Speaking of perspective, I love how Hosseini uses it and allows us to see the character’s world through his/her own eyes. Though The Kite Runner is narrated in first person, Hosseini has effortlessly portrayed Amir’s perspective. However, in A Thousand Splendid Suns, he has absolutely nailed it. Here the narrative is in third person and is divided into four parts. Part One focuses on Mariam, Part Two and Four on Laila and in Part Three, Hosseini alternates between Mariam and Laila. He fluently shows us the same world through the innocent, reclusive eyes of Mariam and through Laila’s intelligent view. The novel spans from 1959 to 2003, across these women’s lives, right from birth. It is miraculous how Hosseini evolves their perspectives as they grow older without disrupting the flow of the story.
Another box that Hosseini ticks as a writer is the depth of his characters. Like his writing, his characters are layered with multidimensional personalities. Nobody is bad because they are bad (except Assef from The Kite Runner). They all have pasts. Their thoughts and actions are consequential; shaped by past experiences. For example, in The Kite Runner; Amir behaves the way he does because he is guilty, confused and desperate for his father’s approval, Baba is protecting a secret and Assef is just a flat out rogue.
Even in A Thousand Splendid Suns; Rasheed is the way he is because he has lost a wife and a son, and is desperate for a male heir, Mariam feels betrayed and despises Laila in the beginning, Nana feels betrayed and is thus, cynical and pessimistic, Fariba is indifferent to Laila as she has to deal with the fact that her sons were fighting the war, which is difficult for any mother and Hakim has to be complacent with his wife, as deep down he knows she has a point. Jalil has less reason to be so heartless, but he was trying to keep up appearances in society.
Hosseini’s characters are well thought out and more importantly, convincing in such a dramatic setting.
This may be irrelevant, but I like the way Hosseini conjures up his similies, especially the ones personifying the geographical scenery of Afghanistan. I came across a few of these but the only one that strikes me right now is one from The Kite Runner. “I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I didn’t care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.”
Both, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are amazing, inspiring stories. Please don’t ask me which one is better because I really can’t decide (Typical). Let’s just accept the opinion that both are equally good. If The Kite Runner is King then A Thousand Splendid Suns is Queen.
Hosseini’s books are amazing, but I didn’t really enjoy reading them. They broke my heart. They made me cry. Often, when I read a book and the story is funny, happy or thrilling, I just can’t put the book down. Usually, I’m a pretty quick reader, but with The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was oddly slow. I couldn’t bring myself to read too much of these stories at once. I needed to stop and cry every now and then, and perhaps that’s why this post was delayed.
I don’t know if I’m getting too emotionally involved, but I felt as though I was there, in the novels. I felt as though I was watching Hassan get abused (The Kite Runner), I was watching Rasheed force Mariam to chew on pebbles, I was watching Laila battle for life under the pile of rubble (A Thousand Splendid Suns). I was watching all of this, and I couldn’t do anything. I was helpless. And that saddened me. It broke my heart. But that is brilliant writing. The ability to have such a profound impact on the reader is a unique quality. And Khaled Hosseini has it in spades.
Keep breaking hearts, Hosseini. It’s what you do best. If anyone gets to break my heart, it’s this guy. I quote fromJohn Green’s ‘The Fault In Our Stars’; “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you.” I would love to have my heart broken by you again, Khaled Hosseini. “By you, a thousand times over.”**
P.S. Please do yourselves a favour and read the books before watching the movies.
*A quote from A Thousand Splendid Suns.
** A play on one of my favourite quotes from The Kite Runner “For you, a thousand times over.”