May 18, 2007


The Kite Runner Author Returns Home (Lev Grossman, 5/17/07, TIME)

When Hosseini went back to Kabul, the prosperous, cosmopolitan metropolis he remembered was gone, replaced by a polluted, impoverished, war-shattered city. "There's a line in my first novel where this guy says, 'I feel like a tourist in my own country,'" Hosseini says. "I felt the same way." He strolled around Kabul for weeks visiting relatives and talking to people he met in the street. "Some of the things I heard, I wouldn't have believed. This one guy told me he walked into a house one day and saw these three girls: one killed, one in the process of being raped, one struggling--there was this militiaman, he had his hand around this girl's finger, trying to bite her ring off."

It was stories like that that made Hosseini realize he had to write A Thousand Splendid Suns. Unlike The Kite Runner, it has no scenes set in America. This is a book about Afghans in Afghanistan, covering the past 30-plus years of Afghan history almost month by month. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy playboy, forced into a loveless marriage to the boorish shoemaker Rasheed. Childless, the couple adopts 14-year-old Laila, who was orphaned by a rocket attack. Rasheed proceeds to take Laila as a second wife. Confined to a single claustrophobic household, beaten and denied love and set against each other, the two women form a remarkable bond. Against all odds, they find in each other the things that war and society and the Taliban have taken away from them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns probably won't be as commercially successful as Hosseini's first novel, but it is, to put it baldly, a better book. Where The Kite Runner told an appealing but somewhat programmatic tale of redemption, Suns is a dense, rich, pressure-packed guide to enduring the unendurable. (Though there's still plenty of action: "I have this almost pathological fear of boring the reader," Hosseini admits.) Where the characters in The Kite Runner ran heavily to unredeemable sinners and spotless saints, in Suns the characters are more complex and paradoxical--more human.

As you read you can almost feel Hosseini's range as a writer expanding. The Kite Runner was pretty much exclusively about men; Suns is largely about women--in the interest of authenticity Hosseini actually tried on a burqa.

It's a fine book, but it's really just the chick version of The Kite Runner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 18, 2007 8:47 AM
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