A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
367. Riverhead Books. $25.95

The Tragedies and Despair of Afghanistan Without Terrorism

Before and after September 11, 2001, Afghanistan has been infamous for its terrorist affiliations. Before the incident, few people were aware of the terrorist group Al Qaeda coming into power. After the awful disaster, people began stereotypes that Muslims, especially Afghans, were all abhorrent terrorists. Hosseini relieves readers of these prejudices and tells the story of the lives two girls living in Afghanistan before, during and after September 11, 2001. A Thousand Splendid Suns gives a new perspective on what was going on in Afghanistan making it a must read book.

Khaled Hosseini is originally from Kabul, Afghanistan but moved to the U.S. in 1980. For the first fifteen years of his life, he got a first-hand account of life in Afghanistan and all of the political turmoil. Hosseini has a remarkable ability to capture the reader’s emotions and captivate his audience. He uses lots of factual information that gives this fictional story a realistic impression of Afghanistan.

The story is in three parts. It begins with the story of Miriam. She grows up in a small house outside of Kabul. Miriam is born into a world shunned from everyone because she is an illegitimate child. Although growing up even being scorned by her mother, Miriam becomes optimistic and is determined to join her father in the city. When she gets to her father’s house and enters his life completely, she feels left out and hurt. To keep his reputation, he never fully opens his arms to her. He finally gets rid of her by marrying her to a forty something shoe-maker. This totally destroys Miriam emotionally and mentally.

The narrative then shifts to another girl named Laila. She, unlike Miriam, grows up with loving and caring parents. She goes to school, lives in the city, and has lots of friends. She is the opposite of Miriam, and has the life Miriam always yearned for. Laila’s new perspective shows a different side of life in Afghanistan, but there are also similarities in both of their lives. Religion is very important to all Afghans’ lives. Both are loyal Muslims and show the customs of praying and the Qur’an. Laila grows up to be a young woman in Afghanistan with an education and a crush on her best friend. Then tragedy strikes and changes her life forever. The story ends with the two women’s’ lives intertwining.

This book illustrates many problems in Afghanistan. The main issue presented is gender discrimination. Miriam’s life is totally shaped by this discrimination. A man younger than her says to her, “God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can.” The content of the discrimination will disturb the reader in many ways. The women were treated like property and never treated equally.

Political turmoil is a main point in the book and especially focuses on Afghanistan becoming well known in this world especially after September 11th. But the happenings of political unrest leading up to this date and after can shock the reader. Afghanistan was a war torn country. The tension in the country led to many bloody coups that led to many families being torn from the physical and mental effects. Laila’s two older brothers were in the militia and killed in the jihad, paining Laila’s mother so much she confined herself him her room for weeks. “So she sat beside Mammy and dutifully mourned Ahmad and Noor… Mammy lay in bed most days. She wore black. She picked at her hair and gnawed on the mole below her lip.” The bombs and shrapnel has also killed and injured many innocent civilians like Laila’s neighbor, who lost his leg from stray shrapnel. After constant fighting between many groups, the Al Qaeda finally came to power. This led to the disastrous terrorist attacks on America. In the book, the Afghans seem indifferent by the attack initially. Al Qaeda was actually liked by the Afghans. For an American reader this lack of care or rather support of the terrorist group can be stunning, because for Americans, the terrorist attacks were traumatizing. But reading an Afghan civilian’s viewpoint changes anyone’s preconceived notion that every Afghan is as sinful as Al Qaeda. As a reader, there is an immense compassion for Afghans’ misfortune of having such notorious leaders.

This book gives a unique perspective on Afghan life. It shows a great insight to a human being that is given a scandalous reputation by many people. The story also brought up many issues that are present in Afghanistan such as gender discrimination. Khaled Hosseini’s breathtaking writing can totally change the reader’s mind on a stereotyped Muslim. This hard to put down book can alter one’s perspective on life forever.