I remember spending my entire summer solely to finish reading A Thousand Splendid Suns.
A Thousand Splendid Suns depicts the literal struggles of two women living in Kabul, Mariam and Laila. Mariam, an illegitimate child of a rich businessman named Jalil, spends her childhood living in the poor outskirts of town with her mother. Every week or so, Jalil visits Mariam, but refuses to acknowledge her when she comes to his massive house in town. Disappointed and drained, Mariam comes back home only to find her mother has committed suicide from despair. From then on, Jalil decides to make a marital arrangement between Mariam and Rasheed, a shoe-maker 30 years her senior. Thinking that the arrangement might help her escape poverty, Mariam eventually marries Rasheed without knowing how abusive he actually is. Rasheed’s physical and mental abuse increase in severity when Miriam fails to bear a child for him. One day, bombs and rockets attack the city of Kabul, which leads Laila to lose everything but her life. Laila is then saved by Rasheed, who decides to marry her as a second wife. At first, Mariam despises Laila due to jealousy. As time passes, both women create a strong bond over the violence caused by the Taliban and domestic abuse. Rasheed almost beats Laila to death, yet Mariam saves her by killing Rasheed first with a shovel. In the end, Mariam has to face death penalty from the Taliban because she surrenders, so that Laila can escape to Pakistan in peace with her children and childhood lover.
It is a genuinely sad novel, and the violence is quite graphic in explanation. At some point, Rasheed forces Mariam to eat peebles just because her cooking is not good enough for him. Rasheed chases and beats Mariam with a motherfucking belt when she refuses to have sex with him. He even forces Laila, who is pregnant at that time, to have sex, to the point that Mariam has to sacrifice herself for rape. I remember at that time thinking how horrifying it must be to be forced upon sexual activity without consent. The narrative of Mariam’s first time with Rasheed is clear enough for me to comprehend the horror of a young virgin girl being raped by a man 30 years her senior. With absolute desperation, Mariam and Laila decide to flee from Rasheed the abuser, but fail — the starvation, beating, rape, shoutings, accusations, degradations from Rasheed get worse from then on. The character Rasheed is an embarrassment for mankind; how can one man be so fucking cruel? Mariam and Laila are nothing but objects for his crusty ass. Then again, the whole theme in the novel is about how women are objectified by men. According to the Taliban rules, women cannot go outside alone and must cover themselves with burqa. Laila ends up getting beaten by the Taliban, just because she goes out alone to see her children in orphanage. Mariam ends up getting shot by the cult, after saving Laila from her abusive husband. Through this novel, Khaled Hosseini offers emotional subtext to the clandestine image of burqa-wearing women by portraying the tragedies, struggles, and discrimination that they have endured during the Taliban era. A Thousand Splendid Suns shows how women are powerful individuals despite all of the ugliness of the world, and it’s just splendid.