For the last two months I have been putting off reading this book. For starters, I bought the book at an airport in Taiwan, which meant it didn't have a due date which meant it took a backseat to many books that I didn't have the luxury of reading whenever.
Additionally, because I've heard so much about this book already, I almost didn't want to read it at all. I've heard that it's depressing, that it's not as good as The Kite Runner, and that it's basically a novel about the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan.
You know when you read a book or see a film that has had great reviews and you finish feeling disappointed because it didn't live up to the hype? My experience reading this book was the complete opposite. I loved it. I didn't feel the message of the book was one of brutality or depression, but of hope and the toughness of the human spirit.
There are plenty of awful scenes to lend credence to its reputation. While the story's time frame spans thirty years, the main focus of the novel are two woman, a generation apart, whose lives cross as they become the wives of the same man, Rasheed. The elder, Mariam, was born to a servant woman out of wedlock and is raised in banishment, ignorance and eventual rejection during the years the Afghani government was controlled by the communists. She finds herself forced to marry a much older man after her mother commits suicide. Laila, fifteen years younger and raised by intellectual parents, enters the marriage under much different circumstances. Alone after a bomb destroys her home and kills her parents, and pregnant by her childhood love who has fled the country, she marries Rasheed in a desperate attempt to save her unborn child.
The writing engrossed me. Much like the Kite Runner, Hosseini magically puts the reader in the city, neighborhood and house of his characters. Much to his credit, I found myself torn between wanting to yell at Laila to hush up, so that she'd avoid another beating, and kicking Rasheed myself, because he is a despicable brute.
Mariam, one of the most tragic characters in literature, makes this book what it is; a story of love and strenghth. She, who didn't have an easy day in her life, allows herself to be touched by the love of Laila and her children. In return, she performs the ultimate act of love and saves a family.
I appreciate Hosseini's portrayal of a part of the world that is under so much scrutiny lately. Afghanistan, and the city of Kabul where the story takes place, have a long history of wars and occupations which result in a great chasm between different ethnic tribes, Islam, economic classes and gender. Hosseini uses this novel to tell the story of Afghani women and the hardships that face them with each regime change.
As a woman, I feel blessed to have been given confidence and opportunities. I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to live under the conditions the women in this book live under. I am grateful to be born to the family I was born to and in a country which allows me to live the kind of life I choose.
Miram and Laila didn't have the opportunities or support that I have. And yet they survived. They endured and they reached out to others, despite their circumstances. In this, Hosseini redeems all of Afghanistan by showing these two women's humanity. He shows that in a place whose beauty was written about in a 17th century poem, where "One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls" is a city that can become illuminated once again.