I have had this book for years, since 2008. It has been on a bookshelf, then by my bed, but I kept putting off starting it because I knew it might be a hard read emotionally. This is crazy, since much of what I read is emotionally challenging. But my mother doesn’t tell me ahead of time that those books made her cry. Mom, if you’re reading this, never say this to me, even when it is true, because then I avoid the book. For years. Even when I know better. But I’ve been sick in bed and Hosseini begins with H, so I FINALLY got to this one. And I am so glad.
Nana put down the bowl of chicken feed. She lifted Mariam’s chin with a finger.
“Look at me, Mariam.”
Reluctantly, Mariam did.
Nana said, “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
That is a harsh message to give a girl very early in her life, but it is a message that many Afghani women, especially under the years of Taliban rule, learned in brutal detail. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a painful book to read because it is the story of two Afghani women whose lives intersect in Kabul at a time when being a woman in Afghanistan was basically a life-threatening condition. Despite the inevitable bleakness that comes with the territory, this is nonetheless a beautiful book. Khaled Hosseini is a masterful writer who loves his homeland and its history and culture and also clearly loves and respects the women whose plight he illustrates so brilliantly. It took me years to read this book because my mother told me it would make me cry. It did, but it was well worth it. In the end, this is an inspiring story of love and friendship. I also love that Hosseini’s work makes Afghanistan and its people so real for me, in a way that a dozen years of news reporting on the American involvement there has failed substantially to do. I can only wish all my fellow Americans could read this book and The Kite Runner so that we don’t lose sight of the people whose complex and difficult lives our politicians’ and military leaders’ decisions affect daily.
There are also some wonderful men in the book, by the way. I will close with a description of one of them.
But Mariam’s favorite, other than Jalil of course, was Mullah Faizullah, the elderly village Koran tutor, its akhund. He came by once or twice a week from Gul Daman to teach Mariam the five daily namaz prayers and tutor her in Koran recitation, just as he had taught Nana when she’d been a little girl. It was Mullah Faizullah who had taught Mariam to read, who had patiently looked over her shoulder as her lips worked the words soundlessly, her index finger lingering beneath each word, pressing until the nail bed went white, as though she could squeeze the meaning out of the symbols. It was Mullah Faizullah who had held her hand, guided the pencil in it along the rise of each alef, the curve of each beh, the three dots of each seh.
He was a gaunt, stooping old man with a toothless smile and a white beard that dropped to his navel. Usually he came alone to the kolba though sometimes with his russet-haired son Hamza, who was a few years older than Mariam. When he showed up at the kolba, Mariam kissed Mullah Faizullah’s hand–which felt like kissing a set of twigs covered with a thin layer of skin–and he kissed the top of her brow before they sat inside for the day’s lesson. After, the two of them sat outside the kolba, ate pine nuts and sipped green tea, watched the bulbul birds darting from tree to tree. Sometimes they went for walks among the bronze fallen leaves and alder bushes, along the stream and toward the mountains. Mullah Faizullah twirled the beads of his tasbeh rosary as they strolled, and, in his quivering voice, told Mariam stories of all the things he’d seen in his youth, like the two-headed snake he’d found in Iran, on Isfahan’s Thirty-Three Arch Bridge, or the watermelon he had split once outside the Blue Mosque in Mazar, to find the seeds forming the words Allah on one half, Akbar on the other.
Mullah Faizullah admitted to Mariam that, at times, he did not understand the meaning of the Koran’s words. But he said that he liked the enchanting sounds the Arabic words made as they rolled off his tongue. He said they comforted him, eased his heart. “They’ll comfort you too, Mariam jo,” he said. “You can summon them in your time of need, and they won’t fail you. God’s words will never betray you, my girl.”
Muullah Faizullah listened to stories as well as told them. When Mariam spoke, his attention never wavered. He nodded slowly and smiled with a look of gratitude, as if he had been granted a coveted privilege. It was easy to tell Mullah Faizullah things that Mariam didn’t dare tell Nana.
And here is the progress report:
Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 9
Asia/Mideast: 3 (Israel, China, Afghanistan)
Africa: 1 (Madagascar)
Europe: 2 (England/UK, Monaco)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 2 (US, Cuba)
Extra: 1 (Scotland)
Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 4 (CA, MS, NY, RI)
1001 Books (goal 52): 5
A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 8
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini