I read this book as soon as it was released in 2007. It moved me deeply. Especially the parts where Mairam reflects on her life and Laila has to undergo a C-section without anaesthesia. I cried through several incidents when I read it first and again now when I am re-reading it a third time.
My favourite character is Mariam. The story has two heroines – Laila and Mariam, but I think its all about Mariam’s life. Being born a bastard (“harami”), and a girl anywhere in the world is terrible and the conditions in Afghanistan make it worse. Mariam looses her mother to suicide, her father disowns her and gets her married off at the age of 15 to Rasheed, who is nearly 30 years older than her. Put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she would have endured.
Mariam never manages to give Rasheed an heir, so he marries Laila, a 14 year old when he is 63 !!! Laila marries Rasheed because she is pregnant with Tariq’s child and Rasheed manages to dupe her with the news that Tariq had died in Pakistan…
Actually these things continue to happen across the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Just see the laws related to women that Taliban imposes in Afghanistan during their rule. This is excerpted from the novel but their reality is not very different. For e.g, in Iran a woman has to be accompanied by a male member of the family in this day and age, not in the past.
You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home. You will not, under any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten. Cosmetics are forbidden. Jewelry is forbidden. You will not wear charming clothes. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will not make eye contact with men. You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten. You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger. Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately. Women are forbidden from working. If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death. Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar.”
Its dreadful to think that the same Taliban is now forming a Government in Afghanistan once again, as the US troops leave !!! The United Nations sits around twiddling its thumb and best of all, it re-elects Pakistan and China to the UN Human Rights Council. There are disturbing reports of UN peacekeepers themselves being involved in human trafficking, abuse and exploitation. :(:(
Read this report by the Global Initiative – When the peacekeepers are part of the problem.
An excerpt – “Acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers compound and overlay the existing humanitarian problem of human trafficking in conflict zones. From a victim’s perspective, being exploited and abused by the very people who are supposed to support and protect can cause long-lasting trauma and distress, both physical and psychological; and from the perspective of a peacekeeping mission, crimes caused by its ‘peacekeepers’ can facilitate and embed the influence of local criminal activities and networks, destabilizing the community and undermining the mission.”
A Thousand Splendid Suns is obviously based on real life experiences. Its a story that’s been told sensitively and with a deep understanding of the culture. Mariam and Laila stay with you for a long time. Tariq, Jalil, Rasheed etc are just the supporting cast. All that we can do as readers is to wish for these verses about Kabul to come true across Afghanistan –
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Read my earlier review of – Book Review – The Kite Runner.