Monday, December 10, 2007

Further Thoughts on A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is a second blog post in follow-up to one already written concerning the book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Do not read this novel unless you are prepared to learn about the grievous plight of Afghanistan. This country that regularly makes the evening news and seems symbolically millions of miles from us as Americans is much more than just another combat zone where NATO troops fight and the Taliban rule. At least that's what I feel to be true as I near the close of this second of Khaled Hosseini's heart-wrenching tales.

When you read this book, you may too acknowledge that this land holds a brilliant history -- a colorful, rugged population that exists despite struggle and strife, and manages to hold onto hope, woven tightly together as a people by the richness of familial bonds and traditions that have hardly changed over centuries. This book breaks apart the narrowly crafted concepts of Afghanistan fed to us through the press. Through such realistic characters, Hosseini transports our souls into the bodies of Afghans, and we look out from within, becoming one with the story -- we sense on a personal level the deepest essence of the humanity that we all share -- far beneath religious practices and differences in women's clothing.

Because of Hosseini, we readers from any nation feel that same fire that burns brightly within the spirits of women like Laila and Mariam. We are proud of their courage alongside them, rooting for them, our fingers crossed in expectation. And we too recoil in horror as Rasheed, the denier of their freedoms, beats them like animals and gloats in taking away even the most basic of rights. We fear for them, and we mourn them their losses.

Afghanistan is a place that has long endured an existence fraught with uncertainty and corruption, even from those who came into power with smiles and promises to return its people to peace and the old ways.

Do not crack the cover of this book, if you feel yourself unable to handle these dark and painful truths. Even when communicated through fiction, these revelations will bring Afghanistan more clearly into your experience and from out of that digital box of the media's half-truths.

Just as with Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, Thousand Splendid Suns does not disappoint. Even when I am not engaged in reading, the women characters in this book occupy a space in my mind. I drive my car somewhere and my thoughts land on Laila and Mariam, for a moment here and there. They embody for me the many women of Afghanistan, showing them to me not as static ideals, but as living, breathing people of the present.

I am curious if they ever wonder about us -- American or European women, those of us who live seemingly in a different world, a different century -- in the same way I wonder about them. I wonder do they think of us at all, and, if they do, do they only know what they are told, and believe us to be impure and frivolous; or do they know we share the same hearts, and often, the same personal tragedies.

The only thing I regret when I read Hosseini's books is that I don't understand the words completely. Outside of hitting up Wikipedia for the descriptions of Hazaras, Pashtuns and Tajiks, I don't get the deeper meanings of these cultural differences. Probably knowing all of the many terms used for food, clothing and more in the book and the history of these meanings, would expand my enjoyment. However, this powerful story moves so quickly that I am unable to put the book down long enough to look up the sheer number of unfamiliar terms I encounter. Maybe later I will read these books a second time, and then allow myself more time to dissect and ponder what I'm reading.

However, on the whole, this matters not, as I have already become swept up and dedicated to this journey until the very end.

The one thing that this book has brought about from within is strong gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy as a female citizen in America. Granted, this society is not perfect. I do live in a culture where a woman's worth is still, sadly, tied to the size of her chest, her youth, and how much she is willing to show of her physical body. As it is difficult to attain such perfection, it causes many of us to suffer from low self-esteem, the feeling that we can never be enough. It makes us constantly compare ourselves to other women and live in fear that the men we love will one day leave us for someone more beautiful; no matter how great we are on the inside.

Few of us wear burqas. Our "prisons" are private and invisible.

But, I can do nothing about these flaws in our world of media, marketing and consumerism.

Books like Thousand Splendid Suns, however, remind me of how lucky I am, regardless. I feel proud to live in a country where I am free to have a career, to pick up a book of my choosing and fill my mind with what I deem interesting, and where I am not required to cover up my individuality in public.

So I say, don't walk... RUN to read this book, and let me know what you think of it!

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