By Rohini Mohan
Set in Afghanistan from start to finish without straying into the immigrant experience, Khaled Hosseini’s new book, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is reminiscent of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’. Richly developed characters and a solid storyline set against the backdrop of the turbulent events that have rocked the country, it is a tale of troubled people living in troubled times. Often when an author’s very first book is a runaway success, the second, while breathlessly awaited, ends up being a huge disappointment. Not so with this one. The heart wrenching, intricately woven story telling and the strong splendid characters are now trademark Hosseini. While living in India, I never did think of Afghanistan one way or the other, although it is one of our closest neighbors with a fairly big influence on our history. My association was limited to Afghani food: stuffed naans and shorbas; and the actress Khushboo who is apparently of Pathani origin. ‘Lie down with the lions’ by Ken Follet & Manna Dey’s Ae Mere Pyare Watan from ‘Kabuliwala helped me form a vague impression of the country’s landscape. And that was it, the extent of what I knew or cared to know about the country and its people. The Taliban brought out some shocked tongue clicking and the post 9/11 events opened my eyes to the fact that the nation, ravaged by two superpowers could not seem to catch a break. Hosseini’s first book, ‘The Kite Runner’ gave me a whole new perspective and awoke me to the fact that these are a people with a culture and a value system very similar to ours. Hosseini’s second book ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ did not come soon enough for me. Mariam and Laila are the two central characters of the book. Unlikely companions separated by a generation, they are thrown together by strange circumstances. Their experiences provide a window into the trials and tribulations of life in a country which has known no peace for decades. The place of the female child and woman in the Islamic world, while not a new topic, never falls short of its shock value; and shock it does in this book. The reader has a glimpse into the psyches of two women who have been raised in two different worlds, one is a barely educated country bumpkin, the other is a savvy, city girl, with a forward thinking, literary upbringing. How the two are caught up in the cesspool of events that rock their world and how it fosters a touching relationship between the two, which results in eternal love and sacrifice, is at the heart of the story. A surprise at every twist and turn, it is a book filled with rich dramatization and a lot of human interest. Hosseini lived a privileged life in peaceful pre-Soviet Kabul before he immigrated to the United States. He is from an erudite family and has been an avid reader and an amateur writer from his early childhood. A medical doctor by training, he was practicing medicine till almost a year and a half after Kite Runner was published in 2003, after which he settled down to fulltime writing. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Hosseini is a resident of the Bay Area. The idea for ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ came to him when he visited Afghanistan recently and was stricken by the sea change his country and his countrymen had undergone. It is almost always the women who fall prey to these unpredictable ripples in the tide, and this is what Hosseini seeks to capture and portray in this telling novel.