Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.
Hosseini made his mark on the literary world with his debut novel, The Kite Runner (review here). I’d heard a lot about his follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns, with many recommendations saying that it was the female equivalent to the best-selling debut and after promising myself that 2017 would be the year to read more, I thought what could be better than finally getting around to my next Hosseini?
Spanning 40 years, A Thousand Splendid Suns follows Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from very different backgrounds who come together when Laila accepts a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. After a rocky start, the two women soon learn that it’s not where you come from that matters but who you are and the people you surround yourself with that will determine your future.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book concerned with the women of Kabul, focussing on their means of survival and their strength. Through Mariam and Laila, Hosseini creates an intensely moving tale, one that transports the reader deep into the culture and country of these two remarkable women. Mariam is stoic and solitary, coming from a background that has taught her not to trust, and Laila is intelligent and forward thinking but circumstance has forced her back towards the traditional. Together, their tale is highly emotive, deeply moving and, though gripping, at times it is difficult to read.
In the background of Mariam and Laila’s lives, Hosseini tells the modern history of Afghanistan, using the personal to demonstrate the global. The futures of Mariam and Laila are determined by the society around them and this interplay creates tension and difficulties at every turn. The never-ending change of power creates a struggling society where rules and morality are in flux and the domestic space becomes less and less stable. Mariam and Laila have to reinvent their ideas and ideals and their development within A Thousand Splendid Suns creates an addictive narrative.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a wonderfully tragic and compelling title with well-rounded and complex characters that will have you racing through the pages, wishing for a worthy outcome for both Mariam and Laila. For me, Hosseini absolutely nailed his ‘second album’ and I can see why the recommendations for this book were given so earnestly – it’s beautiful and riveting.