I rarely get the chance to travel, so I explore new territory by reading. I find that novels set in other countries—especially if written by natives of those cultures—often teach me much about the those countries’ history and people. Afghanistan is regularly in the news, but like many Americans, I knew little about this country—until I read the novels of Khaled Hosseini. His stories seamlessly weave together the historical events of his complex homeland with the personal lives of his vividly human characters who demand the reader’s sympathy.
Hosseini rose to fame with his first novel, The Kite Runner, which tells the story of fathers, sons, and the brotherly bond of male friendship. In his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini turns his attention to the relationships of women. Against the backdrop of thirty years of Afghan history–including the Soviet invasion, civil war, and the rise and fall of the Taliban–A Thousand Splendid Suns narrates the story of two women a generation apart whose lives become intimately intertwined. Mariam, the illegitimate child of a maid and a wealthy businessman, is forced by her mother’s death to marry young. Over a decade later, Laila, the daughter of an educated, middle-class family, loses her brothers and parents in the war with the Soviets and, in desperation, becomes the second wife to Mariam’s abusive husband. Together, these women suffer the reign of the Taliban—a regime notorious for oppressing women and condoning domestic violence—but remain resilient.
This novel not only informed me about Afghanistan and its history; it also evoked in me such a strong sense of connectedness to the characters that my memories of their experiences haunted me for days after finishing the book. To me, this is one mark of an excellent story.