Audiobook published 2007 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Paperback, 372 pages, published by Riverhead Books
Dates listened: December 10-30, 2016
I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner so much that I read A Thousand Splendid Suns not too long afterwards - it was in fact a year later, but for me that's a quick turnaround to read another book by the same author that I love so much unless it's Jodi Picoult.
If I had actually read the book rather than listening to it, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. I felt like I kept zoning out and couldn't focus so I kept missing important details. That may have had to do a lot with the actors voices being hard for me to listen to as well. As a result, I had to refer to the description on Goodreads and some other reviews to jog my memory.
The description of A Thousand Splendid suns on Goodreads is, "Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation."
Mariam grew up isolated and verbally abused by her mother. She was an illegitimate child and her mother never let her forget it, always calling her a harami. She longed for more attention from her father whom she only saw occasionally, and begged him to take her in - yearning for the attention and things that come with being a member of a real family. Then, at the age of 15 she is married off to Rasheed, a shoemaker old enough to be her grandfather and described so horrifically she might as well have been marrying an ogre. Soon Mariam is subject to Rasheed's violent and abusive behaviors - only this time it wasn't limited only to verbal abuse like her mother. Rasheed took advantage of the patriarchal culture, subconsciously or not, and physically, verbally, and sexually abused Mariam. When he wanted sex and she didn't, he'd guilt her into sex by telling her "There is no shame in this Mariam...it's what married people do. It's what the prophet himself and his wives did," and would then force himself onto her.
When Mariam is around 30-40 years old, Rasheed marries 14-year old Laila. Laila's childhood was similar to Mariam's, having suffered abuse in the patriarchal society of Aghanistan only to be married off at a young age to a man just as abusive if not worse than what she endured as a young child. While Mariam feels sorry for Leila because she knows what it's like be in her shoes, she is also relieved that Rasheed has someone else to beat.
The women bond over their shared experiences and try to navigate their unforeseen relationship that is a combination of mother-daughter and sisters. They do try to use their relationship to their advantage to not only take care of themselves, but also prioritize their children's lives. In an attempt to run away, Rasheed discovers their plans and beats both of them while also verbally berading them. One threatening and powerful thing he says to Leila is, "You try this again and I will find you. I swear on the prophet's name that I will find you. And, when I do, there isn't a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do. To Mariam first, then to her, and you last. I'll make you watch. You understand me? I'll make you watch." This signifies just how much he thinks of them as property and not as humans or partners.
These are just a couple examples of the abuse Mariam and Laila suffer at the hands of their husband. This is a difficult book to get through, yet it's also captivating and keeps a reader wanting more. I kept asking myself why they didn't just leave, but that's the point of the book in many ways. It's hard enough to leave an abusive relationship in the U.S. where women have rights, let alone in a country like Afghanistan where the women have very few right if any.
As Melissa Firman writes in her review, "A Thousand Splendid Suns is that rare book that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It is an emotional journey through decades and with women who may be worlds away, but who are similar to so many of us in so many ways."
Rating: 4 out of 5. Enjoyed it, not quite loved it. Recommend, even though I did prefer The Kite Runner and felt that A Thousand Splendid Suns didn't live up to the same expectations and quality.