Daily Archives: February 2, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Well… here it is then. My first review of an adult book. I feel as if I’m sullying my kids-lit-only blog, but fear not, I’m planning to bring it all back to children’s lit at the end. I offer this review because A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of the titles I selected for my list for the Expanding Horizons Challenge over at Book Nut.

Set in Afghanistan in the years preceding the Taliban, A Thousand Splendid Suns traces the experiences of two women, Laila and Mariam, as they are buffeted through chaotic years of war in their country. A bookselling friend of mine described it to me as “a Kite Runner for women” and I’ve heard and read many similar descriptions since, for Hosseini has focused this work on the lives of women during this recent harsh period in Afghanistan’s history. The novel begins with Mariam’s youth and later we meet Laila. Eventually, the lives of these two women become entangled, resulting in blessings and tragedy.

I heard Hosseini interviewed, and he explained that the focus of his novel was not so much political, but it was to look at the life of his characters. This is indeed the case. I find his writing old-fashioned. It’s really about the story more than anything else. Some characters are not as nuanced as others and I did find myself reading with a certain expectation for the next horribly sad event to unfold. He is a direct writer. You won’t find a lot of surprising descriptive passages in this novel. The New York Times calls his style “melodramatic,” and “black and white” and there’s something true in these observations.

This being said, every so often I like a read that is simply satisfying, that doesn’t push me too much, but that is still worthy and in some measure, thought-provoking or instructive. A Thousand Splendid Suns is this sort of story. Where Hosseini’s book becomes more than this, is in the portrayal of the friendship between Laila and Mariam. This is achieved with complexity and subtlety, and is the strength and heart of the story. As for the book serving what I see as the purpose of this challenge (to offer you a meaningful glimpse into the history and culture of another country), I think A Thousand Splendid Suns achieves this completely. You see inside the constant struggle for survival of many Afghan women. It’s one way to lend humanity to the news stories.

I said I’d bring it all back to children’s lit, right? Well that’s pretty easy to achieve. I’ve decided that whenever I present an adult book for review, I will offer a Companion Read for Kids.

So, while mom and dad are reading 51f2xhsxahl_ss500_.jpg ,

the kids should try 511jc797gkl_ss500_.jpg

Deborah Ellis’s novel, The Breadwinner, is as close to Hosseini’s novel as you could get, in a form appropriate and accessible to children. Imagine the conversations that might be had around the dinner table…