A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The first time I read The Kite Runner, I was kind of shell-shocked by the whole experience. I thought it was good, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever read it again. And then I picked it for my book club, so I had to. The second time I read it, I was terrified that all the women in my book club were going to hate it. They didn’t. We had a great discussion.

I knew people would ask me about A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I wanted to go ahead and read it so I would have an answer for them. The answer is: I thought it was good, not quite as good as The Kite Runner, but still very good. I plowed through it, and couldn’t put it down last night. I ended up finishing it about 11:30, and I’m a little tired today, but I think it was worth it.

The Kite Runner was about a boy and his relationships with his father and his best friend. A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, is a story of two women: Mariam and Laila. After completely different childhood experiences, both end up married to the same man, Rasheed. We follow their story through the Soviets and the Taliban up to 2003. Like The Kite Runner, the story deals honestly with the realities of life in Afghanistan without sentimentalizing them. These women are forced to marry against their will, wear burqas, and beaten, and we witness it . . . and yet the novel didn’t seem as unrelentingly grim as The Kite Runner. Maybe I was just more prepared for it.

My theory is that The Kite Runner was a more . . . personal story than A Thousand Splendid Suns, simply because Hosseini is a man. There was a little more emotional distance from this story, I think. This story also ends on a more hopeful note than The Kite Runner, and is . . . maybe slightly less believable because of that, though that didn’t take away from my enjoyment at all.

When I finished last night, I was glad that no one was there to see me tearing up. The biggest similarity between the two books is that the characters, though they were powerless in many ways, tried to help the people around them. Amir finds redemption when he returns to Afghanistan to help his friend’s son. And Mariam and Laila find hope in their relationship with each other. In the end, they are able to choose, each in her own way, to pass that hope on to other people, giving them the strength to survive.

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