Lent to me by a good friend who insisted that it was one of the best books she had ever read!
From the back cover: "Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move people to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with startling heroism."
I'm not sure that the blurb on the back cover is truly representative of this book. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a story about Afganistan, a country ravaged by war and political upheaval. It is told through the lives of two ordinary women who simply had the misfortune to be born in a time and a place which would infuse their lives with suffering.
I don't think it is possible for those of us fortunate enough to have been born and live in countries such as Australia, to grasp the horror of living in a country that is a battlefield. It's nothing like sending soldiers off to a war in a foreign country, nothing at all. To have tanks and armed soldiers in your streets, to be in danger from bombing or sniper fire as you go about your daily business, and to face oppression, starvation and imprisonment from invaders, is something I can only imagine. To never know from one month to the next which regime is in charge, what laws and what corruption will control your daily life...hardship is not a big enough word. To send sons, fathers, husbands, brothers off to war never to return; to lose daughters, mothers, sisters to disease and gunfire...it's horrifying.
In addition to the war, Mariam and Laila face the "ordinary" sufferings of womanhood; miscarriage, loss of loved ones, unhappy marriages; and the "extraordinary" sufferings of being women in a culture where they are not valued. Mariam is rejected by society because she is illegitimate, both Mariam and Laila are married off as teenagers to a much older man, and both are subjected to beatings from their husband.
Yes, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a story of suffering. But it is also a story that helped me to understand that we are all really the same, no matter where we live or what our culture or religion is. We all have quite modest hopes and dreams really; the desire to love and be loved, to have a family, and to work to make the world a little bit better for us having been here. All countries have so much beauty, all cultures have so much valuable history, all people want to celebrate what is good in their lives.
Mariam and Laila have an uphill battle to make a better life. I love the dream that they share; it's so simple and yet so beautiful:
"They would live in a small house on the edge of some town...where the road was narrow and unpaved but lined with all manner of plants and shrubs. Maybe there would be a path to take, a path that led to a grass field where the children could play, or maybe a graveled road that would take them to a clear blue lake where trout swam and reeds poked through the surface. They would raise sheep and chickens, and they would make bread together and teach the children to read."
I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns. It's a book that will touch your heart and make you thankful for all the good in your life.