I’m a little late writing about the last two books I read in 2010. Two books of quite different moods – the first, quite heavy, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and the second, to brighten my mood a bit, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is a sad but moving story about the experiences endured by Afghan women during their country’s tumultuous times, told through the lives of two very different women.
Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a rich businessman and his servant, has lead a simple life, full of despair and disappointments. Laila, beloved daughter of a school teacher and a doting mother is educated and carefree. Though born almost 2 decades apart and raised very differently, Mariam and Laila are thrust into a cruel situation where they must share a life they both abhor.
The story, told from the perspectives of Mariam and Laila, tells not only of the two women’s personal suffering, but also of the collective experiences, suffering, and sacrifices endured by women of Afghanistan, bound by culture and tradition. It is also a story about the struggles of a nation against oppressive groups taking control of the government, one after the other.
Before reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I had known next to nothing about Afghanistan and Afghan culture other than what is negatively portrayed by the media since the 911 incident in the United States. It’s sad to think that for many people, Afghanistan and Islam only conjure up negative images of war and terrorism. People have forgotten that Afghanistan is a country rich in culture and tradition, the country of the large Buddhas carved into cliff walls, destroyed by the Taliban, to everybody’s shock and dismay.
Through the tale of tragedy and suffering, the novel carries a message of hope. People who have lost much are also capable of giving much, and those who can endure hardships can help rebuild a nation.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the first book Salman Rushdie wrote after his infamous novel, The Satanic Verses. Haroun was Rushdie’s answer to his son’s request of writing a novel that children can read. Meant as a children’s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a fantastic tale of storytelling and imagination which reflect real cultural issues in Indian society.
I quite enjoyed reading this short book, which I read during Christmas weekend. It is also the last book I read (and finished) in 2010. Haroun is a seemingly light and fun fairytale, but as with most of Rushdie’s novels, it carries with it deep, underlying insights on Indian culture, society, government and religion.