Monday, August 13, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Everyone I know has read Kite Runner. It's an incidental thing, not a case of everyone saying "you must read this book" but rather, a more casual, "hey I just read this book the other day, have you heard of it?"

If you liked Kite Runner, I suspect you will like this book as well, the second book from the same author. I found that I liked and disliked in this book the same elements that I liked and disliked in Kite Runner.

I find the history included in the story to be compelling. The author has a way of educating his readers about a part of the world to which we are largely ignorant, and he does so while telling an engrossing story. Accidental education, you think you're just enjoying a story when in fact you're learning something.

The characters led such brutal and harsh lives. This, I know, is unfortunately a reflection of the reality of what women have endured in Afghanistan. That might be what makes the story so hard to digest, the awareness that this is happening in the world. This was not a third world country, this was a prosperous nation, and it all fell apart, and remains in pieces.

The novel spans several generations of women, and many phases of Afghanistan's history -- the Soviet occupation, the warlords, the Taliban, the U.S. bombing, and finally, the current time period, which unfortunately may be a return of the Taliban. By reading this book we understand how the people were affected and in this case the women in particular.

There were times when I didn't feel as if the female characters rang true. These were clearly female character created by a man. I was unnerved by the nine year old thinking she was in love. That was too young for a child to have feelings like that. She was describing the sort of feelings that usually don't happen until later teens. I had to go back and read the part because I was so startled when I saw the line that "she was almost ten years old." I never felt especially close to the characters. Their situations took on a soap opera like element with so many extreme situations, the deaths, the pregnancies, the betrayals, so many characters that were pure evil versus characters that were pure good. While I found the situation and the portrayals of war in the city to be devastating, I felt numb to individual characters.

The coincidences bothered me. They didn't seem as absurd in this book as they were in the other, but nonetheless they were there. When I mentioned this a friend pointed out "that's what happens in fiction." Maybe, in some fiction, not the type I usually read. If this didn't bother you in Kite Runner, it won't bother you in this book.

Despite my criticisms, I'm glad I read it because I am interested in the history of the Middle East. I believe that a lot of people will enjoy it, in the same way that they've enjoyed Kite Runner.

finished reading: August 13, 2007

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