Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer reading, but not light

JUst finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It's as well I have managed to be sufficiently summer-holiday-minded to sit reading in the garden, for if I had pursued my normal practice of doing most of my reading in bed I doubt if I'd have had much sleep recently. This story of the intertwining lives of two women - Mariam and Laila - is so gripping, so heartbreaking and so demanding that I would find myself resolutely laying it aside at 1am and turning instead to something dull - or to the traditional sheep.

Hosseini, an expatriate Afghan, writes of his country in a way that is both matter-of-fact and perceptive. He tells without obvious judgement of the treatment of women, the status of wives, the Taliban and the Communist, but does it in such a way that you know how to react in the way that his heroines do. The inevitability of Afghanistan's history means that you are not surprised by the bigger picture, but wait instead with a kind of dread to see how it will affect them. The glimpse of the woman doctor at a Caesarian delivery performed without anaesthetic in the dilapidated hospital that was all the Taliban would allow women to use told a huge tale of denial and survival, and the heroism of the women in their determination to survive was all the more remarkable in its portrayal by a male writer.

The title of the book comes from a farewell ode to Kabul by the poet Babi:
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.

I shall never feel the same again when I hear of the war in Afghanistan, or the people of Kabul.

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