Thursday, May 13, 2010

A 1000 splendid suns : a review

A thousand splendid moments!

It isn’t easy for a novel to make the reader’s conscience move. And not just in a way that the final few lines of the book moisten the eyes and cause a mild, albeit real, choke in the throat. It has to be a fabric of words that has gone beyond the need to convincingly narrate a tale and brought the fictional characters to life in such a way, that the reader feels – really
feels – what they feel. When they are hurt, s/he feels the pain; when they rejoice, s/he joins in unconditionally. Their triumphs and failure are mirrored in the most natural of ways in the kind of life the reader is leading. On days when they are blue, the reader finds solace in that shade of a morose emotion too. On days when they struggle to keep their sanity alive, the reader applauds them, cajoles them and eggs them on with that unique channel of loud silences only a good book can establish between these two pristine entities. Such a book – dear reader, is Khalid Hosseini’s second offering after his first masterpiece ‘The Kite Runner’ – ‘A thousand splendid suns’ (ATSS).

When I bagged the book at Frankfurt airport last summer I was never in doubt of the kind of quality I could expect from Hosseini. Having read his debut novel and having blinked away the moisture in my eyes at the end of it whilst embroidering it with a genuine smile, I was sure that ATSS would certainly do the same – if not in the same hue – but in a way quite similar. And boy was I right! As I read the final few lines of ATSS yesterday, I couldn’t help blurt out ‘Goddamn man!’ and find myself feeling hurt, happy, content and frustrated – all at the same time. If a book can stir up these kinds of emotions, then I think the author has succeeded.

The story and summary of ATSS can be found anywhere on the net. Hence, going into those details again would be rather futile. What I do want to emphasize on, however, is how the book exposes the deeply scarred lives of women in Afghanistan. The paradigm shift that takes place in Kabul, from women holding important positions in government offices, to being beaten mercilessly with a broken antenna by a Kalashnikov wielding Talib official for straying out of the house without a male companion, is truly gut-wrenching. It is in these shocking contrasts, that ATSS finds success as both a story and a journey of ordinary humans caught in extraordinary circumstances.

We follow the trails of the
harami child from Herat – Mariam – whose illegitimate father Jalil sacrifices her life for his ‘social status’. We are led into the wild and nauseating world of a quintessential male chauvinist of a demon called Rashid – who despite being almost thrice as old as Mariam, marries her and gifts her a lifetime of physical and mental abuse. We are hand held into the warmth of young Laila and Tariq’s world of friendship and love. A blossoming couple who, despite being the future of Afghanistan, become symbols of man made cruelty and inhumane bestiality. We watch, speechless, as Laila’s and Mariam’s paths cross in the most unexpected of ways, as they both end up taking a journey from being spiteful and angry women put together by fate, to becoming soul mates to each other when confronted by a common, rather lethal, adversary. Every kick, slap, shove and smack they receive, feels like a blow on the reader who absorbs their grief with the helplessness of Laila’s daughter Aziza and the despair of Mariam’s vacant eyes. It is in these excruciatingly gory episodes of human suffering it is that we are witness to human glory as well. Whilst we are the silent audience of a once graceful and gorgeous Afghanistan turn into a sorcerer’s den at the hands of Koran thumping arrogant Mullahs, we are rudely introduced to a life most of us know probably nothing about. ATSS is a story that highlights that one fundamental fact that human cruelty has no limits. But then – human love too has no borders. If humans can seem unconquerable with their vile ways, there exist humane pockets too who are able to live a life of cowards, but die like heroes. True and valid heroes.

In Hosseini’s ATSS, every woman suffers at the hands of an ignorant and violent man. As Nana, Mariam’s bitter and abandoned mother tells her…

“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. You remember that, Mariam.”

While ‘The Kite Runner’ explored the depths of honest friendship and the true value of it in a war torn nation, ATSS celebrates the wonder that is being a woman in the darkest depths of tragedy. I found myself feeling disgusted on several occasions for being a man as I was shown the ugliness that hides behind the veils of fake morality and miscued ethical compasses we men,we arrogant self appointed masters of all that is holy and decent, carry around as our guiding lights. In a world where a large section of the educated society sits oblivious to the grief of those who are a hundred times less fortunate than themselves, ATSS comes to us as a stinging slap in the face. And it is in such moments – such splendid moments – that I fell in love with the book. Each time I got smacked, the more I wanted to read that sentence again. Nothing like an ounce of truth in a world hell bent on giving us fiction, isn't it?

The message ATSS delivers is timeless. If I had to summarize it, it would be that any land that does not respect women has no future, no hope and deserves no mercy. A message that gets more relevant with each passing day. A message, as I bask in the masterpiece that ATSS is, I hope will be heralded to millions of splendid readers.

"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls. "

Thank you, Mr. Hosseini. I share your pain and I sincerely applaud your effort in sharing it with folks like me. ATSS now officially is in my all time favorites!

PS: A few more quotes from the book I thought worth plugging in here.

"And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last… This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings."
"And the past held only this wisdom; that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion."
"She would never leave her mark on Mammy's heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy's heart was like a pallid beach where Laila's footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed. "
"Mariam lay on the couch, hands tucked between her knees, watched the whirlpool of snow twisting and spinning outside the window. She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how people like us suffer, she'd said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us."
"She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below."
"Mariam always held her breath as she watched him go. She held her breath and, in her head, counted seconds. She pretended that for each second that she didn't breathe God would grant her another day with Jalil."
"Perhaps this is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be undone."

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2 reflections:

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog, I hadn't noticed earlier during my searches!
Continue the wonderful work!

ShaK said...


Thank you. Hope you keep coming back!