A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

834713Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are forced to live together. At first Mariam feels suspicious and jealous towards Laila, but as they endure ever escalating dangers around them – in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul – they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.

Khaled Hosseini is one of those authors that almost every literary fiction reader is familiar with and you’re almost supposed to feel ashamed when you haven’t read his work, so I always planned to pick up A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner at some point, but I knew it would be a long term goal.

That was before I got into audiobooks. This book was one of the very few unabridged – seriously, why would anyone want an abridged version? – stories they had at my local library, so I wasn’t left with much choice. I wasn’t particularly excited as I expected it to be too literary and ambitious for my taste.

Not only did I go into A Thousand Splendid Suns with low expectations, the conditions in which I listened to it were far from ideal. I reserve audiobooks strictly for whenever I’m driving the car. While it’s great entertainment during a rather boring activity, it does require focus on two things at once: the road and the book. Easy enough with a light read, but less so with a more complex story.
Moreover, I was given a damaged copy that faltered on a number of occasions and eventually skipped parts of the book.

Despite this setback, I loved it. A Thousand Splendid Suns is not the dense novel I feared it would be. On the contrary, it turned out to be an incredibly fast-paced and moving story with a strong plot. Having said that, I would argue that the novel is mostly character-driven. The greatness of this book is, in my opinion, almost entirely the achievement of Hosseini’s female protagonists.

Mariam, naive and eager to please, is brought up as a harami – a bastard – in a small village with very little resources, while Laila enjoys a good education and a generally nice life in Afghanistan’s capital. When fate brings them together, the rebellious Laila sets them on a dangerous journey in pursuit of a better life, armoured only with hope, courage and one another.

Against the backdrop of a Kabul tormented by war, Khaled Hosseini paints a sadly realistic picture of Afghan history. I had hoped to get some insight in the motivation for conservative Muslim traditions, but I must confess I ended up infuriated by the way women were treated as second-class citizens in nineties Kabul. I can only hope that Afghanistan made substantial progress in the 21st century.

I’ve always had a troubled relationship with the position of women (and by extension the relevance of hijabs and burkas) in Islamic countries, and Khaled Hosseini – though probably a Muslim himself – did nothing to warm me up to the idea of women deliberately put in the shadow of their husband.
This is probably, because this extremely conservative way of thinking, as portrayed by Rasheed, does not determine the Islam or being a Muslim. In the end, it all comes down to which kind of man you want to be; Rasheed, Jalil or Tariq?

The only criticism I can think of, is that one could argue that there are too many unfortunate coincidences in this depressing rollercoaster. I mean, how much bad luck can you get? However, I can’t say it bothered me. I love books that rip my heart out and smash it to pieces.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel that will stick with me long after I’ve read – or rather: listened to – it. It’s been a real privilege spending time with Mariam and Laila. I can’t wait to pick it up again. The physical copy this time, for I can’t shake off the feeling that I’ve missed out on some of the beauty. It’s too soon to know for sure, but I think that in time this book will have its place on my all-time favourite books list.

What did you make of A Thousand Splendid Suns? Would you prefer it over The Kite Runner?

Have a bookish day!

Buy this book at The Book Depository.

 

 

 

 

Birthday Book Haul #1

Sometimes I envy book bloggers and book tubers who can do book hauls every single month, but then I remember that a lot of the books they acquire are ARCs. They are nice to get, obviously, but they arrive with the obligation of having to read them fairly soon. Probably wouldn’t work for me, unless it’s a book I really wanted anyway.
Either way, a monthly book haul wouldn’t do me very good, since I would:

A. Run out of money in no time
B. Increase my TBR pile even more (and it’s already taking threatening proportions)
C. Be forced to move to a bigger house (and more importantly: a bigger library. Yes, priorities.)

So usually I end up buying just a few books per year. That is, aside from special occasions like my birthday, Christmas and holidays. Over the years, trips to the UK (mostly London) have evolved into book shopping vacations.

As the title suggests, I recently celebrated my birthday. Well, it’s been a month now, but I had to wait for a few books I’d ordered. There’s a lot to show, since I spent quite a bit and Boyfriend has been extremely generous. Let’s jump right into it, shall we?

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Credits: Elliot Hyland

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Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

12699042Lyra and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. That is until she embarks on a dangerous journey to the frozen North in search of a kidnapped friend. Little does she know that this sets the destiny in motion that has awaited her since birth. Her adventure leads her to talking bears, flying witches and eventually the northern lights, where she might learn more about the mysterious Dust that worries the adults.

I was almost old enough to read Northern Lights when it was first published in 1995, so it’s a shame really that so many years had to pass before I picked up this children’s classic. In my defense, I tried to read it ten years ago around the time that The Golden Compass – which is the US title of the first volume in the His Dark Materials series – movie came out, but couldn’t get into it. Looking back now, I can’t possibly remember why, as there is so much to love about this book.

For starters, Northern Lights has one of the best opening scenes of the children’s books I’ve read so far. Philip Pullman drops you right in the middle of the action, explains nothing and builds up tension and mystery. If he does throw the reader a few crumbs of information, they are rather vague and difficult to understand. Despite it being marketed as a middle grade book, I expect some themes of the series to be lost on young readers. Northern Lights is one of those books that could benefit from a reread a few years down the road.

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Books in the News: July 2017

Andrea Leadsom gave us quite a laugh early on in July. A few days after the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen‘s death, the leader of the Commons was attempting to praise the author, who will feauture on the new £10 banknotes that will go into circulation in September. Following comments from the shadow Commons leader, Valerie Vaz, praising leading female figures, she said:

“I would just add one other great lady to that lovely list, who I am delighted to join in celebrating, and that’s that of Jane Austen, who will feature on the new £10 note, which I think is one of our greatest living authors.”

When confronted with laughter, she quickly corrected her statement as follows: “Greatest ever authors, and I think it’s fantastic that at last we are starting to recognise – well I think many of us probably wish she were still living – but I absolutely share the sentiment.”

After the literary slip, she was mocked on Twitter and even trended on the social media website for a little while. Among the tweeters was bookseller Waterstones that was having a lot of fun with Andra Leadsom’s mistake.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year 1743.

Claire struggles to acclimatize in a world she only knows from history books, but soon finds support in Jamie Fraser. Because of his unconditional love for her, she finds herself torn between infidelity and desire. Eventually, she’ll have to face a tough decision. Does she return to her husband in 1945 or does she stay with Jamie in the 18th century?

Even Diana Gabaldon seems to have trouble describing her novels. Is it romance? Historical fiction? Or Fantasy perhaps? Whatever it is, I think it is fair to say that the majority of her fanbase is feminine. It is also true that the Outlander series isn’t seldom described as (enjoyable) trash. While I get the point, I do believe that this view isn’t doing the books justice. So far I can’t speak for the rest of the series, but looking at Outlander I see a nicely plotted story full of conflict, with strong characters and a vivid writing style.

I won’t lie, I did approach it with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. A story of no less than 850 pages, crammed on thin paper in a tiny font, turns out to be quite intimidating. Given that I’m a slow reader I honestly believed it would take me years to finish it. In reality it took me a few months, which was frankly still more than long enough. Great book or not, after a while, you long for a shiny new story to delve into.

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