Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini

Published in 2007. 367 pages.

First sentence: Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.

Last sentence: Because, if it's a girl, Laila has already named her.

Basic storyline (adapted from Publishers Weekly): Set in Afghanistan, the story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war, and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny is endorsed by custom and law.

Two favorite passages:

But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face in deeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections. [page 226]
Though there had been moments of beauty in it, Mariam knew that life for the most part had been unkind to her. But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it. She wished she could see Laila again, wished to hear the clangor of her laugh, to sit with her once more for a pot of chai and leftover halwa under a starlit sky. She mourned that she would never see Aziza grow up, would not see the beautiful young woman that she would one day become, would not get to paint her hands with henna and toss noqul candy at the wedding. She would never play with Aziza's children. She would have liked that very much, to be old and play with Aziza's children. [pages 328-329]

Some comparisons and contrasts between A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner: I read The Kite Runner back in 2006 (and I posted some of my thoughts here). I really loved it, as I did A Thousand Splendid Suns. Besides their common setting in Afghanistan, however, I think the books are quite different. Hosseini is a terrific storyteller, of course, and that is evident in both books. But the level of emotional intensity in The Kite Runner - at least for me - wasn't quite the same in A Thousand Splendid Suns. I suspect that the details of lives of the main characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns may stay with me longer, though. I loved that this story involved women, while the main characters of The Kite Runner were men. I learned more about the recent history of Afghanistan from A Thousand Splendid Suns - perhaps because the main character of The Kite Runner escapes from Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion. One final contrast: If I can summarize the theme of The Kite Runner as guilt and redemption, then the theme of A Thousand Splendid Suns is loss and connection.

Some discussion questions: Penguin Reading Guides has some great questions. I'd love to discuss them with anyone who has read the book.

Other book bloggers' reviews of A Thousand Splendid Suns:
If you have read and reviewed this book, I would love to link your review here. Please leave me a comment or email me your link!



  1. I think I may be the last person left on the planet that hasn't read one of his books. Bad me! I must say, you've definitely made me lean towards this one as a starting point with your sounds truly wonderful. Thanks!

  2. I loved this one too, here's my review.

  3. I am very much looking forward to whatever it is that Khaled Hosseini writes next, because I have really enjoyed both of his books.

    Here's a link to my review of this book.

  4. I read this book last summer and loved it--more so than The Kite Runner. I really liked The Kite Runner, but I appreciated the female relationships and also seeing the history of Afghanistan.

  5. It was nice to read your quotes and have memories of the book come back. I liked both Hosseini's book very much.

  6. This was a good one, although I liked the Kite Runner more. Here is my review:

  7. I loved this one too, here's
    my review.

    I'm adding your review to my post as well, all right?

    Alessandra @ Out of the Blue