Mariam had never before worn a burqa. Rasheed had to help her put it on. The padded headpiece felt tight and heavy on her skull, and it was strange seeing the world through a mesh screen. She practiced walking around her room in it and kept stepping on the hem and stumbling. The loss of peripheral vision was unnerving, and she did not like the suffocating way the pleated cloth kept pressing against her mouth.“You’ll get used to it,” Rasheed said. “With time, I bet you’ll even like it.”
They took a bus to a place Rasheed called the Shar-e-Nau Park, where children
pushed each other on swings and slapped volleyballs over ragged nets tied to tree trunks.
They strolled together and watched boys fly kites, Mariam walking beside Rasheed,
tripping now and then on the burqa’s hem. For lunch, Rasheed took her to eat in a small
kebab house near a mosque he called the Haji Yaghoub. The floor was sticky and the air
smoky. The walls smelled faintly of raw meat and the music, which Rasheed described to
her as logari, was loud. The cooks were thin boys who fanned skewers with one hand and
swatted gnats with the other. Mariam, who had never been inside a restaurant, found it
odd at first to sit in a crowded room with so many strangers, to lift her burqa to put
morsels of food into her mouth. A hint of the same anxiety as the day at the tandoor
stirred in her stomach, but Rasheed’s presence was of some comfort, and, after a while,
she did not mind so much the music, the smoke, even the people. And the burqa, she
learned to her surprise, was also comforting. It was like a one-way window. Inside it, she
was an observer, buffered from the scrutinizing eyes of strangers. She no longer worried
that people knew, with a single glance, all the shameful secrets of her past.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the second novel by author Khaled Hosseini, following his best seller, The Kite Runner. It is the story of Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man, married off at a very young age to a man 25 years her senior, a man she does not know. Rasheed is haunted by the death of his first and only child, and his resentment against Mariam grows as she fails to provide him with another. It is also the story of Laila, the 14 year old daughter daughter of an educated couple, who is forced by circumstance to marry Rasheed, now almost 60, though her heart belongs to a neighbor boy who has exiled to Pakistan. That both of these women are married to Rasheed, that he starts out kind and somewhat caring, but turns more and more brutal as time goes by, mirrors the events going on around them.
The story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the mid-1970s. It follows the characters through their years of Soviet occupation and resistance, the brutal warfare under the Mujaheddin, the tyranny under the Taliban, and the relative normalcy of post-September 11 Kabul, when the Taliban have been deposed, and the country tries to put itself together again.
A wonderful book, full of simple words of depth and honesty. The characters were easily related to, even in a land and culture so foreign to our own, and I wished again and again for their happiness.