Khaled Hosseini has done it again with ‘A Thousand Splendid Sons’, presenting a new, dashing and dark tale of two generations of women trapped in a loveless marriage, bracketed by great events. The book opens in the historical city of Herat, famed for its poets and ruins of a citadel built by Alexander the Great. Here the reader is confronted with the story of a tragedy, the birth of a harami or illegitimate child to a poor uneducated women whose father has left her due to the ignominy of the event. The story follows this child, Miriam as she is pushed into a loveless marriage to a cobbler in Kabul.
It is in Kabul that the story turns to another family, that of Laila and her loving family of intellectuals. Laila is born in 1978 on the auspicious day of the communist revolution in Afghanistan and from that moment momentous events seem to forever intrude on the lives of these two women. But the events, the Jihad in the provinces, the Soviet invasion, the battle for control of Kabul, all are symbolized in the slow, grinding, tragic, decline in the fortunes of these women and their families. As their lives are torn apart, so too is the city of Kabul and the country of their birth.
This book therefore is a history of Afghanistan in the last four decades as told through the eyes of two powerful women. One ignorant and seemingly obedient, the other strong-willed and intelligent. Both challenged deeply by events and their need to raise children and keep a house. The sweeping panorama and scope of this book is crafted so that although it takes place for the most part in only two small houses, its importance and message is far greater.
Mostly this is an indictment of all the terrible forces unleashed on Afghanistan since 1978. On the one hand there is the secularizing Communist regime that provides services and equality to women, but one that is eventually destroyed through a variety of factors. Then there is the nightmarish, brutish, ‘1984’ like rule of the Taliban, visited with the greatest savagery on women, who become but beasts for it move about. Within this the reader is given brief glimpses of the former Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Buddhas and the former diversity of the country and its grand history.
A brilliant, vast book, painted with an expert brush.
Seth J. Frantzman
A Doctoral student at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he is the editor of the online ‘Frantzman weekly newsletter’.
A Thousand Splendid Suns