Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns. London: Riverhead Books, 1997. hardcover, 372 pps., including Afterword and Acknowledgements.

I found A Thousand Splendid Suns in a rummage sale at a library. The author Khaled Hosseini is noted for his novel The Kite Runner (on my "to read" list now along with all of Paul Theroux's fiction and any future works of J. Marteen Troust) and for his work with U.N.H.C.R. (refugee agency of the U.N.). I found the afterword to be highly informative about the Afghan refugee crisis and I have visited as Hosseini recommends. I regret not having read the afterword first of this fine book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells an interwoven fictional story of several Afghani families set against a historical backdrop of three decades. Mariam was born the illegitimate child of a cinema-owning tycoon and one of his servants. He sent Mariam and her mother to live in a small hovel near a stream approximately two kilometers from town. Although he regularly visited Mariam once a week, he did not acknowledge her officially. Thus, she remained cut off from the benefits received by his other children and three wives. Mariam was also visited by a kind elderly mullah who tutored her in the Koran. Mariam the adolescent wanted to attend school like her half sisters and go see a movie at her father's cinema in town. But she was denied these opportunities because she was a bastard child.

Upon her mother's death when Mariam was fifteen, she was briefly moved to the guest room in her father's mansion. Shortly after, her father arranged a marriage for Mariam to a shoemaker who was much older than she. The man Rasheed met Mariam, they married in haste, and moved to his two story house in another city very far away. Thus, the problem of Mariam was gotten rid of.

As the old saying goes, everything worked for the first couple of weeks. Rasheed presented his bride with a burqa. Shortly after, Mariam experienced her first pregnancy and her first natural abortion. Rasheed began to reveal his temper and his pickiness, resulting in regular beatings of his teen wife. More pregnancies and natural abortions followed. Mariam was unable to carry a fetus to term.

Meanwhile, several overthrows of the government had occurred and the Afghanis started fighting amongst themselves based on tribal geography. Down the street, a barely pregnant teenager lost both of her parents to a rocket. Her teen lover had left for Pakistan. Rasheed found her in the rubble and dug her out. Mariam and Rasheed nursed her back to health. Laila, the teen, quickly agreed to be Rasheed's second wife. She was out of options. Laila's upbringing had been more modern. For the sake of her unborn daughter, she donned a burqa and submitted to Rasheed. Her first child, a daughter was born. Rasheed suspected the child was not his. And so, after a time the shoemaker had two women to beat. Mariam and Laila became friends. Mariam got a chance to be an auntie to Laila's daughter by her absent teen lover, and then to her son by Rasheed.

Laila and Rasheed's son copied his father's treatment of the two women. He defied them and would not listen to them as he knew they had no real authority over his. He was his father's
child in many ways. He remained so throughout most of the book. When Laila's teen lover returned, the son ratted to Rasheed. This resulted in a severe beating of both women. Mariam sacrified her self so Laila and the children could escape with Laila's teen lover. They settled in Pakistan for two years and then returned to their hometown.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was an excellent historical fiction. The characters were well drawn, the history presented was accurate, and there was a real sense of place. I found myself involved with the characters. There was enough suspense to hold my interest. The horror portrayed when the Shittites marched victoriously into town chilled me to the bone. What would I do if I woke up one morning to men wearing black turbans in a jeep announcing that all women must now wear burqas and are required to have a male relative accompany them when on the streets?
I had a Muslim acquaintance of several years who startled me one day by telling me that he wanted the United States and other places to be under Sharia law. My acquaintance was educated and well-spoken. My reaction reflected my shock at his viewpoint. [The man has since disappeared]. I have at least one relative who fervently believe that the more fundamentalist Muslims will "take over the world one day." And another who believes that all divisions between fundamentalist and the more modern Muslims are artificial at best. He says that Muslims are more prone to becoming fundamentalist than Christians are due to the lack of higher criticism available related to the Koran. Thus the prevalence of Muslims who interpret the Koran literally is higher than the prevalence per population of Christians who interpret the Bible literally.

There is, I think, a common assumption that almost all Muslim men who embrace Sharia law are violent and beat their wives. I wonder about that, if there have been studies or not. What is the percentage of Shittite men who have beaten their wives vs. the percentage of Sunni men vs. the percentage of men who belong to other fundamentalist religions vs. the general population in various countries? One beating of one human being is one too many. Is fundamentalism of any ilk a contributing factor to probability of domestic abuse or is it merely a correlant?

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended for those who like narratives, memoirs, or historical fiction

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