I would like to start this post by thanking Dymocks (booksellers in Australia) for releasing their top 101 books list every year. I do the same thing every year – I vow to read all the books on that list that I haven’t yet read. As this list has changes on it every year, so hypothetically there should be less and less books for me to read, but I never get around to it and so the list defeats me year after year. But this year I am really going to do it. I have already read about 4 or 5 on there that I hadn’t read yet and they are all books that I would not normally read, so the top 101 list is a great way for me to branch out and read “outside the box”. This morning I finished one of these books – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I had heard lots of great things about this book and have frequently been tempted to pick it up and give it a go, but it didn’t really seem like something that I would enjoy reading. Without the Dymocks list I may have never got around to reading this book and missing out on a truly beautiful piece of work, one which we can all learn something from.
The story is set in Afghanistan, starting in the early ’70’s when the Soviets were still in the country and fighting for control of it. It is here that we meet Mariam, a young girl born out of wedlock and therefore considered a blight on the face of society. She has quite a complicated relationship with her parents – her mother appears to resent her for being in the world, while her father, visits her every week and brings her gifts, yet he will not be seen with her in town and will only visit her at her home. After an unfortunate chain of events, Mariam finds herself married, at the age of 15, to a man who is 30 years her senior and moved away from her home to Kabul, where women at that time were liberated. They were teachers, doctors and lawyers and dressed like western women. They were allowed to leave the house on their own and were not expected to marry at a young age and start having children.
The story follows Mariam over the next 30 years and eventually hers story meets with that of a young girl named Laila, who has experienced much more than a 14 year old should ever experience. The two of them are forced into a relationship that is less than appealing to both of them, but through hardships that neither of them had envisioned as young girls, they forge a bond that is so strong that it will transcend death.
Although a work of fiction, I learnt far more from this book about the rise of the Taliban, than what 11 years of news reports have taught me. Although I don’t like admitting it, I found it much easier to register everything that occurred during this period, when I had a person to follow through that time and see what the experiences for them must have been like. It also enlightened me further on the subject of the burqa. I firmly believe that we should wear what we want to wear, when we want to wear it (providing it is appropriate). It would not be my choice to wear a burqa, but that is not to say that I begrudge the others’ the choice to wear them. However, the one thing that sticks in my mind about the burqa is that they are a way of shielding women from unwanted attention and to preserve the modesty of the woman wearing them. But it had never occurred to me that they could be a comfort for some women. For someone such as Mariam who was an illegitimate child who had little or no contact with the outside world, it is quite overwhelming for her when she is moved into the big city. But when she is made to wear a burqa by her husband, she feels safer and less judged when out in public. She is able to observe people without being observed herself. I found it a very interesting perspective, and one that I could relate to a little, in the sense that I hate people observing me, but I find people watching very interesting.
On the whole, this was a really beautiful story and a highly recommended read for anyone. You will find yourself becoming incredibly attached to Mariam and Laila – don’t say I didn’t warn you! It is wonderfully written and was not difficult to read. Just be prepared for a couple of late nights as I promise you that you will not be able to put this down.
RATING – 10 out of 10.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – Everybody I think – it is a thought provoking and enlightening read.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Aziza – she doesn’t appear until quite late in the book, but she is truly a beautiful soul. Mariam also – she displays the kind of courage and strength that I think everyone wished they possessed.