A Rock In A Riverbed; ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

“Whatever rights your have are because feminists went out and grabbed them for you. Feminists, not shoe designers or chocolate manufacturers.”

On International Women’s Day 2012 Linda Grant took to twitter. In making the above statement, she was asserting that women should remember what has been fought for to enable them to have the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, and continue to be empowered by it. Thirty years ago I would have had to have a signature from my husband or father to get a credit card; we need to be thoughtful of freedoms we take for granted. Grant received quite a response on twitter, partially negative, however, mostly women recalling their tales of sexism up to the present day.

Grant wrote an article on the response she received which I came to read; the tweets she got now have a permanent home at athousandreasons.com, preserved, not to be lost in the twitterverse.The article can be read here Gender discrimination is still commonplace; women face it worldwide. A lot of it in the Western world is habitual, it just passes us by because it is so ingrained into our society (dancing practically naked on a pole for a man’s enjoyment is not empowering) but in other cultures it is far more prolific. In Afghanistan society is dangerously close to returning to the restrictions of the Taliban, where women’s rights were non-existent.Guardian article on Afghanistan returning to Taliban politics Under Taliban rule women had to wear Burkas, where not allowed anywhere unless accompanied by a man, could not hold employment, had separate and underfunded health care; they were second class citizens with zero rights.

Linda Grant’s article made me realise just how little I know of feminist history. English women, for example, need to be aware of how far society has progressed. Need to have a knowledge of what women such as the Suffragette in first wave feminism, or Germaine Greer in second wave have done so we can enjoy the freedoms we are entitled to. I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns feeling like a fat, spoiled, over indulged child, left to its own devices. I have not been taught what to be grateful for; now I feel empowered to learn.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heartwrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love, a stunning accomplishment.Synopsis from Goodreads

As impressive as Laila was, my favourite character was Mariam. A continual victim, Mariam was constantly faced with and blamed for circumstances well outside of her control. She never did anything wrong, yet had to endure a lifetime of hardship; a selfless human being cursed for being a woman. Her illegitimacy plagued her as well, in ways you would imagine it would not have had she been a boy.

“In a few years this little girl will be a woman who will make small demands on life, who will never burden others, who will never let on that she too has had sorrows, disappointments, dreams that have been ridiculed. A woman who will be like a rock in a Riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her.”Laila taking about Mariam, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Once I had finished reading I wondered, had circumstances been different, if Mariam could have had a better life. If she had not gone to Jalil’s, instead staying with her mother. Yet, that would not have stopped the Civil War, Soviet invasion, Taliban, or the prospect of an different but equally sadistic husband. Mariam’s destruction was out of her control.

Laila’s struggle was a different one to Mariam’s. Laila grew up with happiness, love and freedom, her transition from everything to nothing was not easy. At times I found her ungrateful for Mariam however, their bond was the survival of them both. When I realised Laila was to be operated on without any sort of medication I felt ill; just the knowledge that women were so segregated that sanitary medical conditions, let alone mixed gender hospitals, were denied is abhorrent. The strength these women had was magnificent.

I write from a position of luxury in comparison to the lives of women like Mariam and Laila, so I am at risk of sounding patronising. These are situations I will probably never fully comprehend. Hosseini has done a fantastic job writing about two fascinating women; admirable as they struggled through fluctuating regimes and devastating personal lives. While A Thousand Splendid Suns ends on a somewhat saccharine note, this is fiction, and a thoughtful hope for renovation of a repressed nation can never do any harm.

5 thoughts on “A Rock In A Riverbed; ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

  1. Thanks for an informative and eloquent post. I bought this book in a book sale, and still have it in the TBR box. I need to dig it out sooner. Yes, women have come a long way, and we’re enjoying the fruits of others who were much braver. I’m afraid I know very little of their struggles. But from watching Downton Abbey, I came to appreciate a bit more the social conditions. The poor women needed much tenacity to sustain a life, the rich needed the audacity to reject their privilege and create a meaningful one.


  2. Oh Alice, you always suck me in with the power of your words! I only skimmed past the book summary because I didn’t want to be too spoiled for the book as this is one I’ve had on my To Read list for YEARS. I love Khaled Hosseini’s style and the richness and realism of his worlds. Admittedly, just basing this on a deep, DEEP love of The Kite Runner. But my mom has read TKR and A Thousand Splendid Suns and said she loved both. I really need to move this up my reading list!
    So many books, so little time…


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