This is simply an amazing book. It is written by Khaled Hosseini who also wrote The Kite Runner. I picked up The Kite Runner randomly at a book store and loved it, so when I heard that Hosseini was writing another book, I was interested and excited to read it. Again this book takes place in Afghanistan like The Kite Runner, but unlike The Kite Runner the entire book takes place in Afghanistan. It is the story of two women and how their lives intertwine in Afghanistan over a thirty year period. Mariam, an illegitimate child of a movie theater owner, is fifteen when she is married to a man in Kabul and forced to move there from Herat after her mother dies and her father's waives will not let her stay in Herat with them. She marries a man who is forty and her life begins in Kabul. Laila is born in 1978 on the night that the Soviets invade Afghanistan and so all she knows is the war and violence. This starts with the Soviet invasion and then leads into the muhjadeen's war agains the Soviets and their withdrawal. This then leads into the fighting among the muhjadeen and finally the take over of the Taliban. These women's lives intersect and join when Laila's parents are packing to take her away to Pakistan during the the fighting among the muhjadeen and a mortar shell hits their house. Both of Laila's parents die and she is taken in by Maraim and her husband Rasheed.
This is a story of love. The love of Laila and her childhood sweetheart Tariq. The love that develops between Laila and her children. Laila's first child is born because of one night that she and Tariq share when she is fifteen, right before her parents die. Laila's second child is the product of her marriage to Rasheed. This is also the story of the love that develops between Mariam and Laila. Their husband is abusive toward them, physically, emotionally and sexually and so they must learn to find common ground and love so that both of them may survive his attacks.
This is also the story of life and two women in a culture that does not value them as humans. Laila grows up in a household in which her father is a University professor and so he stresses the importance of eduction for all including and especially his daughter. We see life in Kabul prior to the takeover of the muhjadeen and Taliban and their institution of law based upon the Koran. We see women who are able to get an education, who are able to travel and have their lives as they wish to live them. Although, Mariam is poor and is then married to a man who follows the Koran exactly hence she has to wear a burqa even before it is mandated by the government because her husband demands it of her, she is still free to travel to the communal bread oven and she can travel to the market. Laila has a lot of freedom until she gets married to Rahseed and that is mostly because she knows she is pregnant and needs to have a father for her child.
Hosseini does show us life inside Afghanistan and how it changes from prior to the Soviet invasion to the rise of the muhjadeen and the Taliban and then finally we do see what happens in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. But the politics are never the focal point. As readers we are not forced to read how good or bad each of the different regimes are, we are given the positive and negative of both the Soviets and the U.S. There are really no positives about the Taliban, although there is an interesting court scene ( I do not want to give too much away in case you have not read it yet) where one of the judges enforces the law, but does not seem to be convinced that what was done was totally wrong. There is also some interesting look at how Titanic becomes a huge movie in Afghanistan, although it is banned by the government. The actual movie cannot be bought except on the black market, but there is a market in an old ravine that is the Titanic market and there all kinds of merchandise labeled with Titanic, from toys for the kids to even burqas. And there are armed Taliban guards who are patrolling, but do not interfere with the sellers unless they are selling the movie itself.
Overall I thought this was an awesome book an I would recommend it to all. It is a great way to see Afghanistan from an Afghani point of view, granted Hosseini moved to the U.S. in 1980, so The Kite Runner may be a better book in terms of his own experiences, but A Thousand Splendid Suns is far more accurate than the picture that BushCo. and many others would have us believe about Afghanistan. It also discusses the beauty of a place, Afghanistan and Kabul in particular, before it is ravaged by war. So please go buy or borrow this book along with The Kite Runner so that you can see a place that is only ever viewed as the enemy in its more true form.