Friday, April 25, 2008

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I had no intention of reading this book because of the negative publicity surrounding Khaled Hosseini's previously published novel, The Kite Runner, and the movie based on it. I know some people who will not watch any movie with rape scenes. Unfortunately, I'm not that ideologically consistent, as my favorite director is Sergio Leone, and his films have a lot of rape scenes.


In any event, a local Muslima was leading a book discussion group which was planning to talk about A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I decided to read it and participate.

I should list reviews in major publications.
  1. Christian Science Monitor, by Yvonne Zipp
  2. New York Times, by Michiko Kakutani
  3. London Times by Joan Smith
  4. Washington Post by Johnathan Yardley
My first impression while reading this was its similarity to a film hindi, you know, where the twins are seperated at birth, one becomes an outlaw, the other a policeman, and both fall in love with the rich man's daughter, who is going to be married off to a politician, etc. Or an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where the detectives' uncovering of one gruesome crime leads to the discovery of an even more gruesome crime.
So the book is an unending tale of the woes of misogyny. And however cliche that may be, it does not change the fact that misogyny does cause a lot of damage in people's lives.
In addition, the author actually tries to teach contemporary Afghani history through the characters' lives. In the author's retelling of events, the period of communist rule in the 1970s-1980s, comes out looking the best, at least from the vantage point of Kabul. And while the Taliban come out looking bad, the previous mujahideen factions also come out looking bad. While a lot of this is old news to most Muslims who have followed Afghanistan for the last 30 years, the discussion group participants in Augusta, GA remarked that, despite the fact that U.S. forces have been deployed in Afghanistan for nearly 7 years, they learned a lot from this aspect of Khaled Hosseini's book.
One concern I have is whether Khaled Hosseini whitewashes the current government of Afghanistan. My understanding is that it relies so much on the anti-Taliban warlords that life for most Afghanis has improved marginally. Has misogyny decreased since the Taliban left Kabul? What about Malalai Joya, who has been suspended from the Afghani parliament for speaking against its warlords? In addition to her June 2007 interview on Democracy! Now, she was featured in a [wideangle] episode which aired in September 2007. Economic improvement has occurred through the increase of opium production.
The novel has an obvious anti-Pushtun bias. And it seems as if this is how the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is shaping up, with primarily Pushtun Taliban controlling areas of the south and primarily non-Pushtun militias ruling in various northern and western provinces and taking part in the weak central government. In this regard, the novel fails to achieve the uplifting ending it portrays through the individual character of Laila because there is no approaching of consensus towards a less misogynistic, more ethnically and religiously tolerant society.
Having said all that, the novel is an easy read, and there is a plot twist that I did not expect. Most of the people who attended the discussion group said the novel was better than Kite Runner. So I'd say it's a good vacation read.

No comments: