A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
|A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
|Category: General Fiction
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: Purple prose over vivid description, soap opera over genuine emotional depth. Bookbag didn't enjoy this any more than it enjoyed its predecessor, The Kite Runner. Its weighty setting belies what is in actuality, a pleasant but incredibly light and schmaltzy plot-driven read.
|Date: May 2007
A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book
There are some books you're just not supposed to say aren't very good. For one reason or another, a book catches the zeitgeist, and if you say don't like it, you're jumped upon as snobbish, jealous, mean-minded, or some other pejorative. Um... hello. Welcome to snobbish, jealous, mean-minded Bookbag. We didn't like The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's first book, and we don't like A Thousand Splendid Suns very much either. Sorry. It's not that the book is bad, it's just that everyone says it's wonderful, and it isn't.
A Thousand Splendid Suns picks up life in Afghanistan as it is for women. The Kite Runner gave us the perspective of the male exile. This book's story comes from behind the burqa. The two women (yes, yes, there were two men in The Kite Runner too) are Mariam, who represents the fundamentalist side of Afghanistan, and Laila, whose background is liberal. Gradually, the two women - separated by the symbol of the burqa but united by war - are drawn closer and closer together. Throughout the various melodramas, the main thrust of the book is to reveal the status of women in Afghan society and the nation's general breakdown after so many years of successive conflicts. At one point, Laila and her boyfriend take a trip to see the Buddhas of Bamiyan, precious monuments now destroyed as idolatrous by the Taleban.
I am all for engaging with current events through fiction. I'm all for confronting the woes of our foreign policy through it, too. I'm all for revealing through novels the way poor benighted Afghanistan suffers and fails while the great and good use it as a fighting ring. This is not why I disliked A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't think Hosseini does enough to challenge the Western view of the country - burqa = bad, Buddhas of Bamiyan = good, no shading of that anywhere to be seen - but I don't mind that either. It's just that the book isn't very good. It runs at a breakneck pace and you feel as though you're in the middle of a novelisation of The Terminator or somesuch action film. It just never lets up. It's melodramatic, over-theatrical, unshaded, and just plain schmaltzy half the time. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it's a holiday read, not a weighty one. And to hear hushed tones in relation to it, well, because, very possibly, I am snobbish, jealous, and mean-minded, it gets on my nerves.
The subject matter is weighty. The book is not. It's a light, romantic read with some purple prose set against the background of one of the most significant conflicts of our time. There's nothing wrong with that at all. If you like this kind of read, you'll love it. Bookbag would enjoy it as a holiday read. If the rave reviews, the award shortlists and the hyperbole has made you buy it, you're going to be severely disappointed.
If you want to read about women in Afghanistan, try Christina Lamb's The Sewing Circles of Herat - her journalism is as lyric as any novel. We've also enjoyed And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is in the Richard and Judy Shortlist 2008.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is in the Independent Booksellers' Prize 2009.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini at Amazon.com.
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