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A Thousand Splendid Suns

5 Apr

    A Thousand Splendid Suns released in 2007, is the second novel by American-Afghan writer Khaled Hossaini. After the extremely popular The Kite Runner, whose main plot depended on the friendship between tow boys and a relationship between a father and son, Khaled Hossaini follows the principle of symmetry in Nature and gives us a plot which is based on the mother-daughter relationships and friendship among two Afghan women. The plot runs right from 1960 all the way till 2003 taking its slow paces right from the regime of the King, the take over by the Russians, the war-lords regaining the land and finally the era of Taliban and its end.
    Mariam is a young Tajik girl, a harami (born out of wedlock in 1959) to a maid Nana and a wealthy businessman Jalil living in the suburbs of Herat. After leading much of her childhood with her unloving mother who keeps pointing out that women are second grade to men and all men treat women like filth, Mariam decides to leave her remote home and stay with Jalil. When the only reason for her happiness, her father, refuses to accept her into her home, Mariam returns home heartbroken only to find her mother hanging by a tree. This forces Jalil’s family to arrange a marriage of 15 year old Mariam to a 40 year old shoe-maker Rasheed who is the main antagonist in the book. Rasheed wants a boy to carry forward his name and when Mariam couldn’t provide for it, he is thrown into fits of anger. Rasheed imposes the strictest of rules on Mariam. He forces her to wear a burqa when they go out saying that he hates women who show their face to other men and beats her up for simplest of mistakes. In-short, he treats her like filth, subjecting her to ridicule and insults.
    Simultaneously, we are introduced to the second protagonist, Laila (born in 1978), a beautiful and intelligent girl, and third child of Hakim – a teacher with an open and progressive mind and Fariba – a cheerful woman, born and raised in Kabul. The peace of the family is disrupted when their two sons die at war. Fariba becomes a brooding and uncaring woman mourning the death of her sons. When the Mujaheddin takes over Afghanistan, the family decides to leave for Pakistan following Tariq – Laila’s best friend and lover, but are killed by a stray rocket which hits their home.
    Rasheed, the neighbour of Laila, saves her from the debris and takes her home. He decides to marry the 14 year old Laila without even consulting Mariam, who has been his wife for 18 years. Laila accepts the offer when she hears the news of Tariq’s death. She becomes the second wife, primarily for the fact that she is carrying Tariq’s child and wants to provide for the baby. Mariam hates Laila for stealing her husband. When Laila delivers a girl child, Rasheed’s true character comes to the fore. He turns violent and is prone to domestic violence on both his wives for small mistakes or when his mood is grumpy (which is infact all-the-time). The barrier between Mariam and Laila is broken by Aziza who craves for Mariam’s attention all the time.  Laila starts stealing money from Rasheed’s purse to save-up and leave for Pakistan when she gets the chance. When Rasheed becomes aware of the plot, he turns savage and locks all three of them for days in a dark room with no food and water. Laila then conceives Zalmai when Aziza is 4 years old. The rest of the story is about the life of the women under Rasheed, their anger, their needs, the pathetic way in which they are treated and whether then can find peace and happiness in their life.
    Maybe this excerpt from a Taliban pamphlet sums up the plight of women in Afghanistan and why the author decided to write on such a unknown topic – The struggles and plight of common women in Afghanistan.

For all (men, women, children ):

Singing is forbidden.
Dancing is forbidden.
Playing cards, playing chess, gambling, and kite flying are forbidden.
Writing books, watching films, and painting pictures are forbidden.
If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
If you steal, your hands will be cut off at the wrist.
If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.


Attention women:

You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.

Listen. Listen well. Obey.

    The plot of the book is brought out more slowly to the reader than its predecessor “The Kite Runner”. But once the book picks up pace, there are so many twists and turns in the plot that one is glued to the book. The book is a bit dramatic at a few places and the characters are clearly portrayed into Black-and-white i.e, the author pin-points to the reader that these are the good people and these are the bad ones, which is hard to imagine in real life. Though with these negetives, the author has brought out the daily life of Afghans, their day-to-day routines, thier sentiments and feelings to what is happening to their country, their culture and the tumultous life through 4 decades of war in detail. He has brought out the life of two women in a heart-wrenching way: Mariam – an unloved soul and Laila – an intelligent and free spirited woman, their unusual friendship, their sorrows, their love for each other and the sacrifices they make are etched for ever. A 8/10 for this one.

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The Kite Runner

24 Dec
    “The Kite runner”, is a fictional work by Afghanistani-American debutant writer Kahled Hussaini. The story is brought out to us through the eyes of the protagonist, 11year old Amir, son of a wealthy business-man of Pashtun tribe and a motherless boy in the Wazir Akbar Khan district in Kabul, Afghanistan. He grows up with Hassan, a boy from Hazara tribe, who is also the son of the servant Ali to the household. 

    The two boys grow up to being the best of friends until an event in the winter of 1975 triggers a chain reaction which alters the life and world of all that Amir knew of. After winning the kite flying competition, Amir finds what he was looking for, the affection of his father. The best kite runner in all of Kabul, the loyal, instinctive and protective Hassan runs to catch the winning kite as a gift to Amir only to be trapped by three bullies. Amir witnesses an event where he could have chosen a path to be brave and stand-up to his friend or flee. Amir chooses the latter. This decision proves to be the crack in the wall. Slowly but surely the friendship between the boys is broken as Amir is tormented by the events that he witnesses and Hassan’s guilt in undergoing such a shame.
    The invasion by the Russians leads to Amir and Baba (Amir’s father) fleeing Afghanistan into US where they are forced to start their lives afresh with no money. Amir marries Soraya and decides to follow his childhood dream and become a writer. But he is still guilt ridden by his betrayal and no amount of remorse is able to overcome his eventual split from Hassan. A letter and phone call from Rahim Khan, a close friend of Baba living in Pakistan and his favorite person in the world as a kid, shakes up Amir with the words “Come. There is a way to be good again”. Why did uncle Rahim contact him after all these years? And most importantly what can Amir do to rid his guilt and find redemption? The visit to Peshawar in Pakistan turns out to be much more than just a courtesy call. Amir has to face not just the demons of the new world that Afghanistan has become; he has to also face the repercussions of what he had done.
    There are quite a few statements from the book which got etched in my mind. These might not be the first times they are being used. But this is definitely the first time I have noticed them so profoundly stand out once I finished reading a book.
  • “Sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime…” 
  • “Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” 
  • “Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.” — I am truly moved by this statement.
  • “It always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place.” 
  • “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
  •  “For you, a thousand times over.”
    The book brings to picture the culture and state of affairs of Afghanistan to the world through the decades of tumultuous upheaval of a nation and ultimately the life of Amir. Right from the ousting of the king, to the invasion by the Roussi, the take over by the Taliban, the fleeing to refugee camps and finally to the Twin tower bombings which result in the invasion and ultimately leading to democracy (which might or might not work…). Though some readers might not like the graphic details brought out in the scenes depicting the treatment of Harazas, the book just portrays one of the worst of things happening in Afghanistan. The characters are complex and brought out subtle yet magnificently. Love, friendship, loyalty, humanity, inspiration, compassion, betrayal, remorse and redemption are brought out in a heart-wrenching manner. You laugh, cry, smile, become angry, fear and even go to shock with Amir as the events unfold. The most important part of the book is how flawed the hero is just like most of us. A must read. I would rate this 9/10.