I am currently rereading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, which is set in Afghanistan and centres on the lives and relationship between two women, Mariam and Laila. Afghanistan is a country I knew little about, apart from war and the Taliban, until I read Hosseini. I have enjoyed several of his books because he gives a human face to Afghanistan, depicting the everyday hopes, dreams and struggles of a people who have experienced “one invader after another.”
In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini particularly shines a spotlight on the lives of women, their hardships but also their ability to endure.
…each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke onto tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women like us suffer…How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.
For Mariam and Laila, the suffering they must endure is not of their own making. Mariam is a harami – illegitimate. While her father might call her “his little flower”, Mariam learned…
…that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.
Mariam is forced to endure the shame of illegitimacy, a state not of her own making. While her father’s “legitimate” daughters can aspire to university, Mariam is shunted into an arranged marriage with a much older man, Rasheed. Why is it that Mariam must bear the cost of the sins of her parents? If human rights are indeed inalienable, can a person really be declared illegitimate?
Laila, on the other hand, cherished and loved, has the importance of her education impressed on her by her father.
Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated Laila. No chance.
But tragedy strikes Laila. Alone and unprotected, she too has little option but to become Rasheed’s second wife, which ultimately leads to an unlikely friendship with Mariam. However, worse is to come.
When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear.
Yet hope and love prevail almost against all odds.