thousand-splendid-suns1I rediscovered reading this week, and the book I owe thanks to is Khaled Housseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. The novel revolves around two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, who suffer unspeakable heartbreaks over and over again. Housseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, explores themse of guilt, regret, and forgiveness in the face of horrendous tragedy. This follow-up, set in Afghanistan around the same as The Kite Runner, reopens those wounds and examines them from a female perspective.

Housseini is a tremendous storyteller and his book is a pageturner, but the truly mezmerizing thing about this book is the deep insight Housseini allows us into his man characters. Mariam and Laila’s experiences as women in Afghanistan are understood in the West conceptually, but not emotionally. This book changed that for me.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is not a great peice of literature, however. Aside from Mariam and Laila, most of the novels characters are flat and lacking in nuance. Sometimes it seems they exist in the book only to make one point over and over, as in the case of Laila’s mother. “Mammy” is an educated, liberal Afghan woman who suffers the death of her sons at the hands of the soviets. In the throws of depression, she acts as a foil to Laila’s positive, progressive mindset. But that’s all she does, because Mammy seems to lack any other define characteristic.

Still, this novel is well worth reading if only for the deep, emotional insight it offers into the lives of Muslim women in places like Afghanistan.