Sunday, July 26, 2009


This month we met and discussed Kahled Housseni's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Just like his debut, The Kite Runner, this novel provided an eloquent look at life in Afghanistan. Housseni explores the female voice is this follow-up. The results are stunning and horrifying.

The major topic of discussion was Housseni's commentary on men. The male characters in this novel are all deeply flawed in some sense. Miriam's father is weak. He allows himself to be controlled by his wives to the point of damage. Miriam is forced to live in squalor with her unfit mother because his wives wish it so. Rather than manning up to his mistakes, Miriam's father ignores them, and refuses to acknowledge them. He is a constant source of disappointment, and during the episode when Miriam shows up at his house and is forced to sleep outside while he hides from her inside the house, Miriam's father is shown not just to be weak, but also to be a coward of the worst type.

Miriam's "salvation" in Rasheed sees a weak, cowardly father replaced with a disgusting, manipulative pig of a husband. Fearing that she has no other choice, Miriam remains in Rasheed's home despite his constant belittling, advance, and abuse.

Housseni depicts Rasheed and Miriam's father very unfavourably. But what about Layla's father? He is good in his heart, values education, and encourages his daughter to be a strong and independent woman. But, he is killed. Is Housseni suggesting that he is also weak?

We also discussed Miriam's sacrafice. It was beautiful, and seemed to serve a two-fold purpose. Miriam knew that Tariq and Laila would never be free if she chose to run away with them. Laila was the only person who Laila felt had ever really loved her, or that she had loved, and so she wanted to ensure that Laila's life would be a good one. Miriam's sacrifice also allowed Miriam to escape her life. Nothing good ever happened to Miriam. Nothing. Miriam was done. Finished. Tired. Miriam's sacrifice allowed her to give Laila the chance to be happy; happiness was something that had always eluded Miriam. The sacrifice also allowed Miriam to put an end to a life that had always been filled with hurt, pain, violence, and hate.

Lastly we discussed Laila's decision to return home. It is very much like Aminata's idealization of Africa after being absent for decades. Home always looks good when we are not there. We forget about all of the bad things and focus on the (perhaps) false sense of safety we get from the idea of "home." However, Laila knew Kabul before the war, so it is possible that she believes that the freedoms she once took for granted will be restored. Hindsight is always 20/20 though. Today, the progress in Afghanistan seems to be going backwards, with introductions of rape laws and other misogynistic diatribes, I believe that Laila would be disappointed.

Housseni's treatment of the female voice in A Thousand Splendid Suns is poignant and beautiful. Once again he delivers a story that tugs at the heart.


• Thanks for hosting July's meeting Trish! The food was fantastic, and your backyard is lovely! Next July, your place again?

• We will be meeting at 7:30 p.m. on August 18 to discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows at the usual Starbucks location. See you all there!


Paddy said...

Well written, Jenn.
I really felt that Miriam's mothers contant comment that it is a woman's place to "just endure" became a self fulfilling prophecy.
I also think that "squalor" is a perjorative term. They were well provided for. It could be seen as idyllic, but Miriam's mother made sure she did not see it that way and tried to make Miriam bitter about it as well.
What a tear jerker it was.

Jenn said...

Perhaps I did use the word squalor in a pejorative sense if my meaning is taken to be referring only to Miriam's physical living conditions.
I think I meant more to refer to her emotional living conditions, which were that of squalor (meaning marked by filthiness or degradation.) Miriam was living in an emotionally muddy and degrading environment for most of her life.

Vanessa said...

Great write up Jenn...
Great book and meeting.
Cant wait for the Time Travelers wife!!!!
And I LOVE the new look of the blog!!!!!

Jenn said...

Thanks Vanessa! Glad you like the new look, but as I mentioned it doesn't stay the same for very long these days. As a professional nerd, I admit freely that I get sick-nerdy-joy out of changing up the look every few months or so.
Nerd Love