A long weekend last week, lots of time, and another book found its way from the ‘To read’ section of my library to the ‘Completed’ section. This time, it is ‘A thousand splendid suns’ by Khaled Hosseini. As usual, I am here to bug all of you with my reading experience.
Note: Plot partly revealed
The story comes from the pen of the very same author who wrote ‘The kite runner’, a book that left an impact on me, visible long after I finished reading the book. This book too has an equally complicated plot, but provided me with just as good a reading experience. It left me moved. Like ‘The kite runner’, this story too is based in Afghanistan, and has a lot of tragedy in it. In fact, parts of it left me closing my eyes and wincing. However, the ending couldn’t have been more perfect, satisfying me at a deep emotional level.
The story is about Afghanistan, the way the country goes on silently bearing the brunt of one attack after another. It is about how such attacks affect people, how it brings out the best and the worst in them. It revolves around Mariam, Laila, Rasheed, Tariq and two kids, Aziza and Zalmai.
Mariam is the bastard daughter of a rich businessman, Jalil, and his housekeeper, Nana. Hosseini very skillfully brings out the innocent longings of Mariam as a child – of sitting at the same table as her father and dining with his other wives and her half brothers and sisters, of watching the day-to-day life of his house, of watching a movie with him. All of Mariam’s kiddish desires are based on the illusion that in Jalil’s heart, she is at par with his other children – an illusion which is brutally shattered. As if this alone is not enough a burden for Mariam’s little heart, she has to deal with her mother’s death due to suicide. Mariam is married off to Rasheed, a widower several years older than her. For a brief period of time, Mariam experiences a bit of happiness, which seems like heaven to her. She becomes pregnant with Rasheed’s child, and feels that motherhood will take all her pain away. However, happiness is not to be so soon in Mariam’s life. She loses her first child, and all consequent ones. Rasheed exposes his beastly side to her, making her chew stones and beating her with his belt. Mariam continues to live on in hell, when one day, a quirk of fate brings Laila to live with them.
Laila is a modern girl, educated, open-minded, with her own strong opinions. She has lived in the same neighbourhood as Rasheed and Mariam, and is far younger than Mariam. She has a soul mate in Tariq, a handicapped boy from the same neighbourhood. Laila loses her parents to the Taliban invasion, and Tariq moves away from her. Circumstances make her marry Rasheed, and come closer to Mariam.
In Laila and in her daughter Aziza, Mariam finds the companionship, understanding and love that she has always looked for. More than anything, she finds acceptance of herself in their eyes. It is for this very same bond that they share that Mariam sacrifices her life.
These lines sum up Mariam’s life precisely:
She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Mariam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.
Laila is re-united with Tariq after Rasheed’s death, and they all lead a happy life in Pakistan for a while. Later, they return to Afghanistan, their homeland, and Laila takes it upon herself to fulfil Mariam’s unfulfilled dreams.
The characterisation is brilliant, as was the case in ‘The kite runner’ too, with the character of Mariam, Rasheed and Laila evoking pity, hatred and inspiration respectively, and that of Tariq symbolising ultimate chivalry. I especially loved the character of Tariq in the book.
All in all, it’s a sad tale, poignant, and at the same time, positive. A good read.