War zones on the other side of the world are often so distant to those of us in the United States. The chasm increases with huge differences in language, religion and culture. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan — these nations that are so far away are also so different and distant that the destruction and tragedy that have occurred there seem almost remote and unreal.
Khaled Hosseini has the wonderful gift of bridging that chasm, of making the people who are so distant into real, living, breathing, feeling individuals who have loved and lost – deeply. He made Afghanistan a real place in his first novel, The Kite Runner, and he makes it even more immediate in his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. This second novel is a bit more accessible for more people, I feel, since it doesn’t not have quite as jarring a scene in it as the first (which, if you have read, you will know to what I refer). Suns is pocked with war, but the scenes are not as deeply disturbing. They do, however, fully engage the reader and allow us to remember our shared humanity and how difficult it is to lose family and homes. This novel also focuses on women as its main characters rather than boys and men.
Mariam and Laila are women who come from different towns and different backgrounds, who have very different prospects for their futures. Yet because of the war and culture, they end up in the same situation.
A Thousand Splendid Suns spans three or four decades and weaves between its two heroines, changing perspective. But it holds the reader’s attention and picks up pace and heart as it progresses toward its end and the current day. It is an absolutely beautifully written book, one with heart and soul in spades, with tragedy and sorrow, but still full of hope. One cannot read this tale of a country torn by war but still shone on by the light of a thousand suns without wanting to make a difference, to notice anew the sufferings of those who may be distant but who are still brothers and sisters in the human race.
Rated: Mild. It could be moderate, depending on one’s reaction to the war scenes. Language use is fairly minimal: some mild and a few uses of moderate language. Sexual scenes are fairly brief and not very detailed. Violence and war scenes are not heavy or overly detailed, but the nature of the war and how it changed people is a bit disturbing. If depicted fairly thoroughly in a movie, it would be more of a Moderate.