“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
The book next on my list for my Reading Tales is Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It vividly describes the plight of women in Afghanistan under the strict and inhuman patriarchal rule of the Taliban. This book made me aware of the privileges that I enjoyed without realising it.
The story takes place between the years 1960–2005, drawing major references to the actual events that took place in Afghanistan during that timeline. And what better time to reminisce these impactful stories when that country is again battling the menace.
I became a fan of Hosseini after reading The Kite Runner. While Kite Runner is a story of men, the multi-generational story of the Thousand Splendid Suns, narrates the turbulent history of 30 years, spanning from Soviet occupation to the Taliban control, through the eyes of otherwise anonymous women living beneath identity-diminishing burqas.
The novel revolves around the life of two women – the intertwining of the lives of Mariam and Laila and their struggle to survive in the turbulent world. The story starts with a naïve Mariam, branded a harami, an illegitimate child living with her bitter mother and seemingly affectionate father. As the chapters proceed we are introduced to new horrors of her life, the emptiness in her father’s love, the much older husband Rasheed and the domestic abuse that ensued. The second narrative is about another innocent child Laila who grew up in a loving family and had an education. The worlds of these two women are entirely different but destiny brought them together while enduring similar unyielding circumstances due to the vicious tyranny of marriage to the same increasingly unhinged man in a war-torn Afghanistan. The resilience of these women and how they come to know each other is like magic on the page.
This story is about social prejudices, the toughness in the human spirit, the torture of Taliban rule. But, above all, it is a story about how women are often the principal support for each other and can survive even the most egregious abuses of power. Mariam is one of the most tragic characters I have come across, and one of the strongest too.
While reading this book I thanked God for gifting me a life where I did not have to endure hardships simply because I was born a female in a male dominant and oppressive society. The book taught me to be grateful for what we have, by never taking the people that bring happiness and fulfilment in our lives for granted.
Mentioning some of my favourite quotes –
“Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
“I’m sorry,” Laila says, marvelling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.”
“Each snowflake was a sigh heard by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. 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 women suffer.”
“Marriage can wait. Education cannot…Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.”
This book was an experience of a lifetime. It grew inside me, shattered the heart, yet taught the lesson of love, tolerance, and courage. That’s the power of this novel.
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