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A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Book recommended by Ujwala Vaidyanathan

This story starts off with a young girl called Mariam who is Jalil’s illegitimate daughter and lives with her estranged and embittered mother on the outskirts of Herat. She suffers from the stigma surrounding her birth and later she faces abuse throughout her marriage with Rasheed. Meanwhile, Laila, a young bright girl, grows in a very different household. Her father places her education as priority and showers her with all the love he could offer. Circumstances bring both the women together, and though initially their attitude towards each other is less than warm, as the story unfolds, they form a strong relationship, something stronger than one of a mother and daughter, if that’s possible. Throughout the first half of the book, both the women are subdued and don’t really take actions on their own. That slowly changes in the second half when things go out of hand. They first try to run away in search of freedom, but in vain.

Some of the words said by the characters of this story really depict the plight of the people in this world. In one instance, young Mariam’s mother advises her to understand that a man will always find something to accuse a woman of. These words become a refrain for her as she gets older and starts experiencing the world. In another instance, Laila’s father, who was a school teacher, advises her that while marriage can wait for a woman, education cannot. He inspires her to do anything she wanted to and tells her that when the war is over, the country would need women as much or more than its men. In such a community which oppressed and subdued its womenfolk, there existed a community which believed that empowering its women was the way forward for their country. In this story, Laila’s father perfectly represents fighters and activists of repute.

It is a story of the women’s struggle against Rasheed and then oppression in general.
Women’s rights in Afghanistan have been turbulent throughout history. Women officially got equality under the 1964 Constitution. But these fundamental rights were snatched away in the 1990s during the civil war. But because of women like Laila and Mariam who forced their voices to be heard, women began getting opportunities that were unheard of. This book is the story of a revolution. A revolt against tyranny.

The tale of the two brave women has been poignantly portrayed by Khaled Hosseini and should be a “must read” in everyone’s list.