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Beyond Dreams and Disillusionment

Rakhshanda Jalil

By Khaled Hosseini
Bloomsbury, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 372, £5.99

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Let me confess at the outset: I have not read The Kite Runner. I therefore began reading this, Khaled Hosseini’s second book on wrecked and ravaged Afghanistan, unburdened by the weight of expectations. While many adjectives hover in my mind, the one that best describes the experience of reading A Thousand Splendid Suns is quite simply: ‘Moving’. In fact, a blurb at the back quotes The Independent proclaiming that the book is ‘guaranteed to move even the hardest heart’. Indeed, it moves one virtually to tears.   Hosseini paints with broad brush-strokes across a canvas that is vast and varied, richly textured and vividly coloured. His concern is with telling an epic tale, painting the big picture, giving a bird’s eye view of the horror and devastation visited upon his poor benighted country. He is not particularly concerned with the minutiae of story telling: of plot, characterization and narrative technique. And, to be perfectly fair, in a novel such as this, given its scope and brilliance, you do not ask for more. For, it is the depiction of a place and its people that becomes paramount. With every page you turn, you are living the life of the two main protagonists—Mariam and Laila. Hosseini succeeds in doing so because he makes the events of their lives so real and so immediate; the sights, smells and sounds of their lives are brought so vividly before our eyes that the sketchiness of their characters seems not a flaw but simply a necessity. It is the story, the kernel of any good writing, which is the real strength of A Thousand Splendid Suns. In the end, it is the story that stays on in one’s mind.   The story is, at one level, elementary, at another epochal. It is the story of two women tested to the limits of their endurance but never found wanting. And, it is the story of a country torn apart by persistent internecine warfare but refusing to bow down to the enemy within and without. The saga of personal sorrows and losses is played out against the backdrop of a country at the mercy of shifting political and ethnic alliances. Early on, the young and innocent Mariam, the bastard child of a poor maid and a rich business man, growing up in a mud kolba in the picturesque Herat countryside is told by her mother that ...

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