“One couldn’t count the moons that shimmer on her roofs or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
The title of the book A Thousand Splendid Suns comes from an adaption of a 17th-century poem written by Saeb-e-Tabrizi. He used his words to beautify certain specific aspects of Afghanistan and its great cultural achievements, where ironically, the novel takes its readers through the walkway of its destruction in terms of culture, economy and worldliness.
Flipping through Hosseini’s pages gives one not just the plot and glimpse of a horrific lifetime of war-hit Afghanistan, but the innate feeling of connectivity to the souls of female leads within the book. The book, of course, transports us and provides us with a way of compassion and empathy for Afghani women, whose suffering has been matched only by a few groups in recent world history.
The tyranny of war had forced scores of people, including Tariq and his family from the novel, to abandon their homes and flee Afghanistan to settle in Pakistan and Iran. The Publishers Weekly magazine reviews, “Hosseini gives a robust portrait of a “patriarchal despotism” where women are agonisingly smitten by fathers, husbands and particularly sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to their social status and the sole reason to their existence.” Hosseini’s tale is a powerful and harrowing depiction of Afghanistan and portrays the indomitable spirits of its leading ladies.
Hosseini describes the collapse of the communist revolution, the depredation of Soviet occupation, warfare that pit tribe against tribe, and the increase in the number of the straightforward and harsh Taliban, American intervention and finally, attempted reconstruction of Afghanistan by world powers.
The author takes us through these periods through the eyes of Mariam and Laila, showing how external events far beyond their understanding frame their lives.
Hosseini is without doubt an edgy writer who promises to hold his readers within the brim of suspense throughout the journey of the book. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book that speaks with more emotions than words, and is even more heart-stopping than his first book The Kite Runner.
It’s the story of Mariam and Laila insured by Afghan history from the 1970s to present times. Mariam is a decade older than Laila, and a mother-daughter closeness gradually develops in what’s initially a hostile and unacceptable relationship. Together, with the transition in mindset and behavioural change that the women acquire during their journey, there develops an intense sense of growing “fellow feeling” and “care” by the readers for the protagonists.
They are women completely reliant upon their patriarchs for sustenance. With further turning of the pages, I felt even more commiseration about the plight of these women in their conservative households. It is indeed the truth that feminist struggles began much before these events and have a century-old history to talk about, which has been suppressed by hidden powers for the sake of misogyny. Sadly, the societal structure never made space for them.
Women suffered not only through nuclear bombings like everyone else, not only were they beaten, tortured humiliated, imprisoned, with their fundamental human rights violated over and once more, they also suffered extensively from gender-based abuse. They were abducted and sold as slaves, forced into marriage to militia commanders, forced into prostitution, rapes and were victims of unjustifiable crimes.
Reforms and alternatives don’t just come from casual instruction or circulation of laws. It involves learning and unlearning of many things likewise — to yield off reluctance of mind, to unlearn misinterpreted texts and accept on-ground facts, and to act sensible enough to question what’s unjustifiable.
This is exactly what the story of King Amanullah of Afghanistan in the 1920s tells us about. He who brought hospitals, schools, banned forced marriages, raised the minimum marriageable age for girls had to, unfortunately, find himself as an old man in exile for his attempt to reform.
And therefore, it’s indeed a tribute to the courage, endurance, and resilience of Afghanistan and to an important insight that social prospects are cloudy and doubtful unless its women are educated and treated as equal beings. Mutual respect and care lays down the idea for a peaceful and harmonic society.