Monday, July 02, 2007

One Thousand Secret Suns

One Thousand Secret Suns by Khaled Hosseini is one of those books that, when people ask me how I liked it, I have trouble answering. I want to say I loved it, but how can you love a book that deals with so much pain? And yet, several of the characters are true-to-life, multi-dimensional, and ultimately triumphant.

Like Kite Runner, One Thousand Secret Suns is set over several decades in Afghanistan beginning in the 1970s. We are introducted to Mariam at age 15 , who longs for her father and ultimately feels responsible for her mother's death. We see Mariam become involved in an arranged marriage with a man 30 years her senior, Rasheed. Initially, things are not actually too bad, though her new husband makes her wear a burqa. Our Western sensibilities are horrified at the idea, but Mariam actually feels cherished and able to observe her world without reserve behind her burqa. Her situation quickly deteriorates when it becomes evident that she cannot bear children.

We then meet Laila, who is eventually orphaned by war. She becomes Rasheed's second wife, which is rather timely since she has become pregnant just before she is orphaned. Laila is Rasheed's adored second wife, but eventually her rebelliousness results in beatings, just as they have for Mariam. In the meantime, Laila and Mariam build a bond together against Rasheed, and Mariam is finally able to experience love.

Although the end of the tale is a little too neat for my taste, and there is a plot twist at the end that seemed a little formulaic, Mariam is a truly heroic character to me. She has done what her mother said that all women must do: endure. How she does this is subtle and real, with no histrionics. She is just a woman who continues day after day, and does what she can for those she loves.