A Thousand Splendid Suns 

Written in 2007 by author Khaled Hossieni, this book follows the lives of two women, Mariam, and Laila, from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Mariam was born in the 1960s in a village on the outskirts of Herat, where she lives an isolated life with her mother until she is married off to a shoemaker in Kabul. Laila grows up in Kabul near where Mariam then lived. This book explores themes like belonging, identity, shame/reputation, and gender roles in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to the Taliban rule up until a few years post-Taliban.  

What I particularly liked about the book was how authentic the characters were: they acted in ways real people would and this made them easier to sympathise with. Moreover, since the author described both the childhoods of Laila and Mariam, the discrepancy between their behaviours was explained. Furthermore, the characters were complicated and contradictory and not just simply one dimensional, so this kept the reader engaged in their lives. Another thing I liked was how the events taking place in the book linked to each other. For example, Mariam’s husband had told her to always wear the burka outside and so whenever Laila saw her outside when she was younger, she always saw that Mariam was wearing a burka.  

I found that the scenes describing Mariam’s childhood were written particularly well. They displayed the sort of innocence that is typical of children and I found Mariam’s transition into maturity and adulthood especially touching. The way that Nana (Mariam’s mother) is portrayed through the book is quite intriguing and it perfectly mirrors the way that children would look at and look back at their parents through their lives. 

The book tackled a lot of difficult subjects, and it did so in a way that did not feel tacky; sometimes, when authors write about issues like domestic violence and rape, it feels grossly sexualised and, in my opinion, Khaled Hossieni did an excellent job of exploring these serious issues without romanticising them. One thing that I’m torn about is Mariam’s ending. I really wanted her to get a happy ending, especially since her childhood and adolescent years seemed so depressing but then again, this made her willingness to sacrifice her chance at happiness for Laila more touching. On the one hand, it seems like her getting a happy ending would feel insincere but on the other hand, she deserved to be happy. 

I also think that the book could have focused more on the themes of shame and reputation. On the first few pages, it felt like this would be a significant theme along the course of the novel, but it was not really explored in much detail.  

In conclusion, I thought this book was excellent and I would recommend it to readers over 13. I would give it 4.5/5 stars.