Over the summer I got to travel to Afghanistan through A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahled Hosseni. A teacher recommended this book to me, making me feel obligated to read it. After dragging myself through the first 50 pages, I was ready to let it go and move on to realistic fiction book, my favorite genre. However, as I got bored over the summer, I continued reading the book, and was in for a big surprise. I was transported to a world entirely different from my own. The book quickly turned from a chore to an engaging and intriguing experience. I laughed and smiled along with the Laila and Tariq, but also wept when Mariam faced hardship.
Though this book is fiction, it is historically-based, so I got the chance to understand the power and influence of the Soviet Union from the perspective of an Afghan between the 1960s and 2000. Kahled Housseni illustrated both sides of the issue through his characters; showing how political difference in some cases were overlooked, but in other cases led to violence and murder. The complexities of the war were portrayed through family divide and lively neighborhood debates.
The imagery used by Kahled Housseni in his writing gave me a better understanding of the conflicts of the time, than any history book I have read at school. The graphic descriptions of bombings during attacks made the deaths seem as if they were a family member of mine, rather than just another number added to the count on the news.
Apart from the political aspect, I was introduced to Afghan culture and the difficulties women face in that environment. Though I have heard about girls being sent off for marriage at a very young age and being abused by their strict husbands in this region of the world, reading A Thousand Splendid Suns made me feel as if I was personally being affected for the very first time. As I read about the main character Mariam, and the abuse she endured in her relationship, I was appalled. However, again Kahled Housseni makes sure to make it apparent to the readers that all households weren’t and aren’t like that. He also discusses the loving family relationships in several other families.
While the cultural distinctions were evident as I read this book, the characters still had relatable problems that crossed any cultural barriers. Khaled Hosseni’s incorporation of these daily issues made the experience seem even more real to me. These factors built a personal connection between me, the reader, and the characters. It got to the point where I sat in my room and cried for half-an-hour simply because I had gotten so attached to one of the characters that their pain and suffering felt like my own.
Overall, with this book I felt like I got the chance to walk into Kabul, Afghanistan, roam the streets, experience the culture, and understand the issues present in the region in the second-half of the 20th century. This book reemphasized that with a talented author and a little imagination, you can travel the world without ever leaving your home.