Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of Mariam and Laila. They differ a generation in age, but are united through time and actions beyond their control. Both live in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the rebellion against the Soviet Union and later on the suppression of the Taliban and you see through their eyes what this new era of rulers is doing to women in Afghanistan.

After reading a few excellent novels, I was sure to have picked another great one. The first half of the book didn't win me over though. It was nice to read that islamic women in Afghanistan used to be as educated as we are today, with female doctors, lawyers and such, but the book used too many stereotypes and orchestrated drama in an too orderly manner. It was too predictable what would happen when. I was almost convinced that I was just reading a romance novel taking place in a foreign land, but luckily the moment Laila is being wed to Mariam's husband every veil falls off and you get a glimpse of the harsh world in which most islamic women are being born. Being female is being born already a sinner in the men's eyes. They lack the respect they should have for their mothers, for their wives and the love for their daughters. A woman giving birth to a girl is enough for her husband to take offense.
Adding to that is that a man can do to his woman whatever they want. Law inforcement won't interfere with what happens in a marriage, as long as the man is the winning party. A woman can't even travel alone, or show her face in public. There are special  hospitals for women, but they don't have enough medicine or even anesthetic to threat the women who come there.

It hasn't always been like that. Laila grew up in a day and age when women were allowed to go to school and get an education. Her father told her that while under Soviet regime she should benefit from the chances they were granting. Badly enough in time the rebellion threw over the Soviet Union with the help of the US, which later on dropped Afghanistan like an old misused toy and Afghanistan tore itself apart, Kabul being shot and bombed apart. Laila lost her parents due to this war between different factions of the Mujahideen. She got to live with Rasheed and Mariam. In time she becomes Rasheed's wife because it's the safe choice to make. Mariam and Laila become friends over time, even allies against the brute nature of their husband. As the Taliban is making their way to Kabul, ending faction wars where they come, firstly everyone is greeting them with vigour until they lay down their laws...

Men shall wear beards, otherwise they will be beaten.
No singing,
No dancing,
Stealing once will cost you a hand, stealing again will cost you a foot. 
If you are muslim you must pray five times a day, if it's time to pray and you are caught doing something else you will be beaten
If you have another faith, don't practice it in public, or you will be beaten and imprisoned.
If you try to convert a muslim, you will be executed.

For the women:

You are forbidden to leave your home.
If you are caught without a male companion on the streets, you will be beaten and sent home.
You have to wear a burqa.
No jewellery
No make-up
No flattering clothes
You're not allowed to paint your finger nails, if you are caught doing so you will lose a finger.
You aren't allowed to laugh
You can't look a man in the eye.

These are just a few of the laws they're living by.

Mariam and Laila have to make heartbreaking choices in order to survive and be sure their children survive also. More than once I had tears in my eyes. It's a story of sacrifice in dire times.

Whatever you're opinion of this novel, you'll see the middle east in a different light as before. I still don't understand why the women living here in the western world are hiding their hair, because they shouldn't. They should wear it openly as a token for each woman who is denied their personal freedom, as an act of defiance for each act of repression against one of their own.
But other than that because it's still a personal choice for each woman, my eyes were opened that Afghanistan hasn't been as extreme as I have known it, especially in and around Kabul.

I'm giving this novel an 8 out of 10. It's lost a point because of being a bit predicable in the beginning.