A Thousand Splendid Suns
First sentence: Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.
Reflections: Mariam is product of an affair between a well-off Afghan businessman and a servant in his home (harami is the Afghan word for an illegitimate child). Mariam longs for her father's love but, while he visits her regularly, she is not permitted inside his home. She is educated privately by a village man named Mullah Faizullah. At the age of 15, she is married off to Rasheed, a widower several years her senior. She leaves her native town of Herat to live with him in Kabul.
A few years later, Laila is born to a family in Mariam's new neighborhood. Her constant companion is a neighborhood boy named Tariq and, as they mature, friendship turns into love. Tariq's family flees Kabul during the Soviet occupation and, under very sad circumstances, Laila becomes Rasheed's second wife. Mariam has been unable to bear children, and is therefore useless to Rasheed. Initially, Mariam wants nothing to do with Laila; however, in time they begin to bond in solidarity against the abusive Rasheed. They share chores, they care for the children Aziza and Zalmai, and they take daring action to improve their circumstances. A deep, maternal love develops between Maraim and Laila, leading to an incredible sacrifice at the book's climax.
The story takes place against the backdrop of unrest, war, and terror that characterized Afghanistan from the early 1970s to the early 2000s. Hosseini paints a vivid picture of events; every single character experienced death and loss. The author also exposes the terrible oppression of women in Afghan culture: their dependence on men , their inability to move about the city alone, and their value only as a reproductive engine. The novel is laden with surprises which often made me gasp out loud. Just as things would begin to look up for the main characters, misfortune would strike. And yet, the ending is one of hope and love. I found this book both eye-opening and compelling, and deserving of all its critical acclaim. ( )