It's about: Two women, Mariam and Laila, grow up in Afghanistan amid continual war and oppression. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells their interweaving stories through national and personal traumas.
I thought: I didn't hurry to pick up this second novel by Khaled Hosseini. I read The Kite Runner back when it was all the rage, and while I found it fascinating, engrossing, and important, I also felt disappointed by its characterization and the bizarrely fortuitous ending. So when my book club chose A Thousand Splendid Suns, I prepared myself for a similar reading experience.
There are certainly things people don't like about this book. I've seen many goodreads reviews that call it depressing and hopeless, and I'll readily admit that it is graphic, terribly sad, and at times painful to read. I loved and respected the fact that the ending didn't wrap up as neatly as The Kite Runner; I think it reflects, appropriately, the ongoing strife that is life in Afghanistan, especially for women.
Is reading A Thousand Splendid Suns anything like reading a classic? Not remotely. It's like reading a movie. But this is a movie that teaches, through its characters' lives, the basic modern history of Afghanistan. It shares a message that meant something to me, and I'm so glad I read it.
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.
Reading Recommendations: It's heartwrenching, but in the end, not depressing. Just prepare yourself for an emotional experience, and don't give up hope for the characters.
Warnings: Graphic war-related and domestic violence. Some sex, too, though not particularly descriptive.
Favorite excerpts: “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.”
What I'm reading next: Birthing a Mother by Elly Teman