Archive for October, 2009


Khaled Hosseini’s second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is better than the first in that it takes place entirely in Afghanistan.  His first, The Kite Runner had an initial riveting section set in Afghanistan, but the second part, set in the United States was not as compelling.  A Thousand Splendid Suns compels utterly with overlapping narratives of women’s lives that are inseparable from the recent history of this beleagured country. While reading of the sorrows and tribulations of wives who are abused; daughters denied schooling and given away as child brides; and mothers whose sons are lost in senseless wars, one has a horrible feeling that this story is still being told, that women will remain, in many cases, mere objects, abused, despised and wasted, valued only for breeding and kept subservient by physical abuse and unjust social structures.  There are many sympathetic male figures in the book, and some of the worst men show glimmers of humanity, even the bully, Rasheed, and the weak father, Jalil; however, for the most part society encourages the worst impulses so that these glimmers are eventually lost.  A poignant moment in the book is after the Soviet occupation of Kabul, when Laila’s father tells her that it is actually a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan, because she is allowed to go to school and to be independent.  This while his two sons are fighting in the Jihad against the Russians, the Jihad that is mostly a reaction to the freedom allowed women under Soviet rule.  The breakdown of rebel forces into factions that tear the country apart after the Soviets leave is an illustration of the senselessness of war.  More people killed, homes destroyed, children orphaned, and women’s rights even further-circumscribed – Hosseini ends on a hopeful note, but his book, dedicated in part to the women of Afghanistan, was written two years ago.  Since then, the Taliban have increased their presence and no doubt stories such as those of Laila and especially Mariam will continue to be played out in obscurity.  We have to at least thank Hosseini who shines a light on these lives and tells his tale with love and compassion.


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Whilst traveling (has anyone else noticed an increase in the use of ‘whilst’?), I like to check out what my fellow passengers are reading.  A lady in the Charleston airport was in the early pages of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga; she also had the latest book by Pat Conroy (South of Broad) in her bag, which happens to be about Charleston, but she said it was awful.  On the plane between Newark and Boston, I spotted a woman in a window seat who was near the end of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  I hear from reliable sources that this is a must-read, but haven’t gotten hold of it yet.  On a weekend trip to DC at the end of September, it seemed that every other person was reading Dan Brown’s just-released novel, The Lost Symbol.  I read his first book and I’m pretty much done with him, but I realize they have a certain amount of entertainment value and make pretty good airport books.  As for me, I devoured The Likeness, by Tana French, which had the same gripping psychological suspense as her first (In the Woods).  I think I liked the first one a little better, but this was still a good read with an irresistible premise and quite a few of the same characters.  I also read a little mystery called The Book of Murder by an Argentinian author, Guillermo Martinez, whom I recently discovered by listening to a book on tape called The Oxford Murders.  He has a cool, dispassionate style, with clever plotting, subtle insights into human behavior and a touch of magic realism.  One of our hosts was reading The Beautiful and the Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I have to confess I have not read.  My traveling companion was reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts for possibly the third or fourth time.  I used to reread books too, back when I didn’t feel so obsessed with time and how it runs out…..

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