A Thousand Splendid Suns

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A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns.gif
First edition cover
AuthorKhaled Hosseini
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherRiverhead Books (and Simon & Schuster audio CD)
Publication dateMay 22, 2007
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback) and audio CD
Pages384 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBNISBN 978-1-59448-950-1 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC Number85783363
Dewey Decimal813/.6 22
LC ClassificationPS3608.O832 T56 2007
 
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A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns.gif
First edition cover
AuthorKhaled Hosseini
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherRiverhead Books (and Simon & Schuster audio CD)
Publication dateMay 22, 2007
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback) and audio CD
Pages384 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBNISBN 978-1-59448-950-1 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC Number85783363
Dewey Decimal813/.6 22
LC ClassificationPS3608.O832 T56 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a 2007 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. It is his second, following his bestselling 2003 debut, The Kite Runner. The book, which spans a period of over 40 years, from the 1960s to 2003, focuses on the tumultuous lives and relationship of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women. Mariam, an illegitimate child, suffers from the stigma surrounding her birth and the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. Laila, born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam's husband.

Hosseini has remarked that he regards the novel as a "mother-daughter story" in contrast to The Kite Runner, which he considered a "father-son story".[1] It continues some of the themes used in his previous work, such as the familial aspects, but focuses more on female characters and their role in Afghan society.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was released on May 22, 2007,[2] and received favorable prepublication reviews from Kirkus,[3] Publishers Weekly,[4] Library Journal,[5] and Booklist,[6] becoming a number one New York Times bestseller for 15 weeks following its release.[7] During its first week on the market, it sold over one million copies.[8] Columbia Pictures purchased film rights in 2007 and confirmed intentions to create a movie adaption of the book.

Creation[edit]

Title[edit]

The title of the book comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem "Kabul",[9] by the 17th-century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi:

"Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls"

In an interview, Khaled Hosseini explained, "I was searching for English translations of poems about Kabul, for use in a scene where a character bemoans leaving his beloved city, when I found this particular verse. I realized that I had found not only the right line for the scene, but also an evocative title in the phrase 'a thousand splendid suns,' which appears in the next-to-last stanza."[1]

Inspiration[edit]

When asked what led him to write a novel centered on two Afghan women, Hosseini responded:

"I had been entertaining the idea of writing a story of Afghan women for some time after I'd finished writing The Kite Runner. That first novel was a male-dominated story. All the major characters, except perhaps for Amir's wife Soraya, were men. There was a whole facet of Afghan society which I hadn't touched on in The Kite Runner, an entire landscape that I felt was fertile with story ideas...In the spring of 2003, I went to Kabul, and I recall seeing these burqa-clad women sitting at street corners, with four, five, six children, begging for change. I remember watching them walking in pairs up the street, trailed by their children in ragged clothes, and wondering how life had brought them to that point...I spoke to many of those women in Kabul. Their life stories were truly heartbreaking...When I began writing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I found myself thinking about those resilient women over and over. Though no one woman that I met in Kabul inspired either Laila or Mariam, their voices, faces, and their incredible stories of survival were always with me, and a good part of my inspiration for this novel came from their collective spirit."[1]

Writing[edit]

"I hope the book offers emotional subtext to the image of the burqa-clad woman walking down a dusty street in Kabul."

—Khaled Hosseini in a 2007 interview.[10]

Hosseini disclosed that, in some ways, A Thousand Splendid Suns was more difficult to write than his first novel, The Kite Runner.[1] This was partly because, when he penned The Kite Runner, "no one was waiting for it."[1] He also found his second novel to be more "ambitious" than the first due to its larger number of characters, its dual focus on Mariam and Laila, and its covering a multigenerational period of nearly 45 years.[1] However, he stated, "As I began to write, as the story picked up pace and I found myself immersed in the world of Mariam and Laila, these apprehensions vanished on their own. The developing story captured me and enabled me to tune out the background noise and get on with the business of inhabiting the world I was creating."[1] The characters "took on a life of their own" at this point and "became very real for [him]".[11]

Similar to The Kite Runner, the manuscript had to be extensively revised; Hosseini divulged that he ultimately wrote the book five times before it was complete.[12] The novel's anticipated release was first announced in October 2006, when it was described as a story about "family, friendship, faith and the salvation to be found in love".[13]

Summary[edit]

The novel centers around the friendship between Mariam and Laila. It is split into four parts, with a focus on Mariam in the first part, continuing with Laila in the second and fourth, and the relationship between the two women in the third part.

Mariam lives in a kolba on the outskirts of Herat with her embittered mother. Jalil, her father, is a wealthy shoemaker who lives in town with three wives and nine children. Because Mariam is his illegitimate daughter, she cannot live with them, but Jalil visits her every Thursday. On her fifteenth birthday, Mariam wants her father to take her to see Pinocchio at his movie theater. When he does not show up, she hikes into town and goes to his house. He refuses to see her, and she ends up sleeping on the porch. In the morning, Mariam returns home to find that her mother has committed suicide out of fear that her daughter has deserted her. Mariam is then taken to live in her father's house. Jalil arranges for her to be married to Rasheed, a shoemaker from Kabul who is thirty years her senior. In Kabul, Mariam becomes pregnant seven successive times, but is never able to carry a child to term, and Rasheed gradually becomes more abusive.

Part Two introduces Laila, a girl growing up in Kabul who is close friends with Tariq, a boy living in her neighborhood. They eventually develop a romantic relationship despite being aware of the social boundaries between men and women in Afghan society. War comes to Afghanistan, and Kabul is bombarded by rocket attacks. Tariq's family decides to leave the city, and the emotional farewell between Laila and Tariq culminates with them making love. Laila's family also decides to leave Kabul, but as they are packing a rocket destroys the house, killing her parents and severely injuring Laila. Laila is subsequently taken in by Rasheed and Mariam.

After recovering from her injuries, Laila discovers that she is pregnant with Tariq's child. After being informed that Tariq has died, she agrees to marry Rasheed, who is eager to have a young and attractive second wife, and hopes to have a son with her. When Laila gives birth to a daughter, Aziza, Rasheed is displeased and suspicious, and he soon becomes abusive towards Laila. Mariam and Laila eventually become confidants and best friends. They plan to run away from Rasheed and leave Kabul but are caught at the bus station. Rasheed beats them and deprives them of water for several days, almost killing Aziza.

A few years later, Laila gives birth to Zalmai, Rasheed's son. The Taliban has risen to power and imposed harsh rules on the Afghan population, including prohibiting women from appearing in public without a male relative. There is a drought, and living conditions in Kabul become poor. Rasheed's workshop burns down, and he is forced to take jobs for which he is ill-suited. He sends Aziza to an orphanage, forcing Laila to undergo a number of beatings from the Taliban when caught alone on the streets in attempt to visit her.

Then one day, Tariq appears outside the house, and he and Laila are reunited. When Rasheed returns home from work, Zalmai tells his father about the visitor. Rasheed starts to savagely beat Laila. He nearly strangles her, but Mariam intervenes and kills Rasheed with a shovel. Afterwards, Mariam confesses to killing Rasheed in order to draw attention away from Laila and Tariq, and is executed, while Laila and Tariq leave for Pakistan with Aziza and Zalmai.

After the fall of the Taliban, Laila and Tariq return to Afghanistan. They stop in the village where Mariam was raised, and discover a package that Mariam's father left behind for her: a videotape of Pinocchio, a small pile of money and a letter. Laila reads the letter and discovers that Jalil regretted sending Mariam away. Laila and Tariq return to Kabul and fix up the orphanage, where Laila starts working as a teacher. Laila is pregnant with her third child, and if it is a girl, Laila has already named her Mariam.

Characters[edit]

Themes[edit]

Family[edit]

When asked about common themes in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini replied:

"Both novels are multigenerational, and so the relationship between parent and child, with all of its manifest complexities and contradictions, is a prominent theme. I did not intend this, but I am keenly interested, it appears, in the way parents and children love, disappoint, and in the end honor each other. In one way, the two novels are corollaries: The Kite Runner was a father-son story, and A Thousand Splendid Suns can be seen as a mother-daughter story."[1]

He ultimately considered both novels to be "love stories" in that it is love that "draws characters out of their isolation, that gives them the strength to transcend their own limitations, to expose their vulnerabilities, and to perform devastating acts of self-sacrifice".[1]

Women in Afghanistan[edit]

Hosseini visited Afghanistan in 2003 and "heard so many stories about what happened to women, the tragedies that they had endured, the difficulties, the gender-based violence that they had suffered, the discrimination, the being barred from active life during the Taliban, having their movement restricted, being banned essentially from practicing their legal, social rights, political rights".[11] This motivated him to write a novel centered on two Afghan women.[11]

Washington Post writer Jonathan Yardley suggested that "the central theme of A Thousand Splendid Suns is the place of women in Afghan society", pointing to a passage in which Mariam's mother states, "Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam."[17]

In the book, both Mariam and Laila are forced into accepting a marriage to Rasheed, who requires them to wear a burqa before it is implemented by law by the Taliban and later becomes increasingly abusive.[16] A Riverhead Trades Weekly review stated that the novel consistently shows the "patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status."[18]

Critical reception[edit]

In the first week following its release, A Thousand Splendid Suns sold over one million copies,[8] becoming a number one New York Times bestseller for 15 weeks.[7] Time magazine's Lev Grossman placed it at number three in the Top 10 Fiction Books of 2007, and praised it as a "dense, rich, pressure-packed guide to enduring the unendurable."[19][20] Jonathan Yardley said in the Washington Post "Book World", "Just in case you're wondering whether Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns is as good as The Kite Runner, here's the answer: No. It's better."[17]

A Thousand Splendid Suns received significant praise from reviewers, with Publishers Weekly calling it "a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan"[4] and USA Today describing the prose as "achingly beautiful".[21] Lisa See of The New York Times attributed the book's success to Hosseini "[understanding] the power of emotion as few other popular writers do".[22] Natasha Walter from The Guardian wrote, "Hosseini is skilled at telling a certain kind of story, in which events that may seem unbearable - violence, misery and abuse - are made readable. He doesn't gloss over the horrors his characters live through, but something about his direct, explanatory style and the sense that you are moving towards a redemptive ending makes the whole narrative, for all its tragedies, slip down rather easily."[23]

Cathleen Medwick gave the novel a highly positive review in O, the Oprah Magazine:

"Love may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider the war-ravaged landscape of Afghanistan. But that is the emotion—subterranean, powerful, beautiful, illicit, and infinitely patient—that suffuses the pages of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. As in his best-selling first novel, The Kite Runner, Hosseini movingly examines the connections between unlikely friends, the fissures that open up between parents and children, the intransigence of quiet hearts."[24]

The New York Times writer Michiko Kakutani wrote a more critical review, describing the opening as "heavy-handed" and early events in the novel as "soap-opera-ish".[25] Despite these objections, she concluded, "Gradually, however, Mr. Hosseini's instinctive storytelling skills take over, mowing down the reader's objections through sheer momentum and will. He succeeds in making the emotional reality of Mariam and Laila's lives tangible to us, and by conjuring their day-to-day routines, he is able to give us a sense of what daily life was like in Kabul — both before and during the harsh reign of the Taliban."[25] Similarly, Yvonne Zipp of The Christian Science Monitor concluded that A Thousand Splendid Suns was ultimately "a little shaky as a work of literature".[26]

The depiction of the lead female characters, Mariam and Laila, was praised by several commentators. John Freeman from The Houston Chronicle found them "enormously winning"[27] while Carol Memmott from USA Today further described them as "stunningly heroic characters whose spirits somehow grasp the dimmest rays of hope".[21] Medwick summed up the portrayals: "Mariam, branded as a harami, or bastard, and forced into an abusive marriage at the age of 15, and Laila, a beauty groomed for success but shrouded almost beyond recognition by repressive sharia law and the husband she and Mariam share. The story, epic in scope and spanning three decades, follows these two indomitable women whose fortunes mirror those of their beloved and battered country—'nothing pretty to look at, but still standing'—and who find in each other the strength they need to survive."[24]

Jennifer Reese from Entertainment Weekly dubbed Rasheed "one of the most repulsive males in recent literature".[28] Lisa See said that, with the exception of Tariq, "the male characters seem either unrelentingly evil or pathetically weak" and opinionated, "If a woman wrote these things about her male characters, she would probably be labeled a man-hater."[22]

Film[edit]

Columbia Pictures owns the movie rights to the novel, but production has yet to begin. Steven Zaillian finished writing the first draft of the screenplay in 2009[29] and is also slated to direct; Scott Rudin has signed on as a producer.[30] In May 2013, studios confirmed a tentative release date of 2015.[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "An interview with Khaled Hosseini". Book Browse. 2007. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  2. ^ "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Penguin.com (USA). Penguin Group USA. c. 2008. Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  3. ^ "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Kirkus Reviews. March 1, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  4. ^ a b "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Publishers Weekly. May 2007. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Library Journal (review archived at MARINet). January 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  6. ^ Huntley, Kristine (March 2007). "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Booklist. Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Emrich, Stephanie (June 12, 2013). "'The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns' author Khaled Hosseini flies into Fairhope". Gulf Coast News Today. Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Jurgensen, Paige (September 24, 2012). "Hosseini's novel tears the heart". The Linfield Review. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Kabul", oldpoetry.com
  10. ^ Memmott, Carol (May 3 2007). "5 questions for Khaled Hosseini". USA Today. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c "'Kite Runner' Author On His Childhood, His Writing, And The Plight Of Afghan Refugees". Radio Free Europe. June 21, 2012. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  12. ^ Young, Lucie (May 19, 2007). "Despair in Kabul". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  13. ^ Bosman, Julie (October 20, 2006). "Arts, Briefly; 'Kite Runner' Author To Release a New Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Foley, Dylan (July 15, 2007). "Interview Khaled Hosseini". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f Baron, Scarlette (June 15, 2007). "The War-Wearied Women of Kabul". Oxonian Review. Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d Thompson, Harvey (August 8, 2009). "A Thousand Splendid Suns: The plight of Afghan women only partially depicted". WSWS. Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c Yardley, Jonathan (May 20, 2007). "Jonathan Yardley: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Critical Praise". Book Reporter. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  19. ^ Grossman, Lev; "The 10 Best Fiction Books"; Time magazine; December 24, 2007; Pages 44 - 45.
  20. ^ Grossman, Lev; Top 10 Fiction Books; time.com
  21. ^ a b Memmott, Carol (May 21, 2007). "'Splendid Suns' burns brightly amid suffering". USA Today. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b See, Lisa (June 3, 2007). "Mariam and Laila". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  23. ^ Walter, Natasha (May 18, 2007). "Behind the veil". The Guardian. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  24. ^ a b Medwick, Cathleen (June 2007). "Emotional Rescue". O, the Oprah Magazine. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  25. ^ a b Kakutani, Michiko (May 29, 2007). "A Woman's Lot in Kabul, Lower Than a House Cat's". The New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  26. ^ Zipp, Yvonne (May 22, 2007). "In Kabul, a tale of two women". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  27. ^ Freeman, John (May 27, 2007). "A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini". The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  28. ^ Reese, Jennifer (May 18, 2007). "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  29. ^ Mechanic, Michael (May/June 2009). "Khaled Hosseini, Kabul's Splendid Son (Extended Interview)". Mother Jones. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 
  30. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (September 16, 2007). Zaillian takes shine to 'Suns'. Variety.
  31. ^ Hoby, Hermione (May 31, 2013). "Khaled Hosseini: 'If I could go back now, I'd take The Kite Runner apart'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 

External links[edit]