Monday, August 11, 2008
monday book review: a thousand splendid suns, by khaled hosseini
Truth be told, I wasn't particularly looking forward to reading A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It's not that the novel's premise didn't interest me - it did - however, I was largely underwhelmed by The Kite Runner and wasn't really interested in hearing more from this particular author. But as it so often does, my curiosity won out in the end, and I decided to give Hosseini a second chance to wow me.  And expectations are a funny thing. I had such high hopes for The Kite Runner that it couldn't help but disappoint, so I then approached A Thousand Splendid Suns with such low expectations that it had a relatively easy time pleasing me.  So, I guess that's the life lesson here: if you want to be happy, it's probably best to keep your expectations low

First, I feel it necessary to point out that the same things that bugged me about The Kite Runner ultimately bothered me in A Thousand Splendid Suns.  In my experience, reading a Hosseini novel feels a bit like watching a Lifetime Original Movie: it can be a very entertaining way to spend one's time, however with foreshadowing that clunky, a plot that annoyingly predicable and a resolution that neat, it's really sort of impossible to take the whole thing too seriously, regardless of how timely or unique the subject matter.  

But that's not to say that there aren't things worth praising, and to prove that I'm not just being contrary for contrariness's sake here are three things I loved about A Thousand Splendid Suns:

#1: The Female Element
I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy when male authors say they don't write females because they don't understand them.  Like we're so incredibly complex, so wildly different, so...alien that we can't possibly be rendered realistically by a male author.  Good fiction writing demands an empathetic imagination, and writing what you know is easy.  Ignoring 50% of the world's population simply because you aren't in that particular group is lazy and lame.  I love that Hosseini took a chance here by centering his novel around two fully formed, realistic and highly sympathetic female characters.  I'm sure it wasn't easy, but he took the risk and I think he did a great job.

#2: The Message of Female Unity and Empowerment
Hosseini didn't just create two female protagonists; he created two badass female protagonists. Timid Mariam comes from a childhood of abuse, extreme poverty and rejection, while outspoken Laila was born into a relatively modern, well-educated and loving family. These two very different women are brought together when separate tragedies force them to wed the same man, a man who submits them both to unspeakable abuse. Although their relationship is understandably rocky at first, they develop a incredibly tight bond that sustains them through their darkest moments.  In a society that is brutal and dehumanizing to women, Mariam and Laila become each other's saviors and refuse to stop fighting for themselves and for each other.  No man is coming to save them, so instead they save themselves.

#3: America Isn't the Goal
I hope I'm not giving too much away, but no, the war-weary characters don't find refuge in America. While it's wonderful that many refugees can and do escape the countries that oppress them, I think it's dangerously myopic to keep perpetuating this ethnocentric idea that 1) America (or any other Western country) is the ultimate solution the the Third World's problems, and 2) that all Third Worlders dream of escape. In the end, the characters in Hosseini's story elect to remain in Afghanistan. Despite all the havoc left in the Taliban's wake, they still love their country and they feel a certain sort of responsibility to stay behind and rebuild it.  There's plenty to admire about America, but there's plenty to admire about other countries and cultures as well, even those countries that may be a bit worse for the wear.

So in sum, maybe Khaled Hosseini hasn't bowled me over with his literary skills, but there's plenty to praise in A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It ain't perfect, but it's pretty good, and for what it's worth I think it's better than The Kite Runner.

Khaled Hosseini
2007, 367 pages

Labels: , ,


Blogger Mary said...

I was also surprised that I really liked this book. I like how pro-woman the author seems to be despite being from such a misogynistic society.

Post a Comment

<< Home