Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.
I did like the book and found it interesting, even taking into consideration both the depressing fate of the main heroines Mariam and Laila and the bigger than life, soap opera like, turns the plot takes in some places.
At first I was going to shrug off a complaint I read in a review, that this book made Muslim Afghan women reading the book sad that their fate of happy Muslim women was not even glimpsed in the novel. But then I remembered how some Estonian women felt about the novel by Sofi Oksanen “Purge” – that it causes the English language readers to have VERY wrong idea about Estonian women and their lives. That a book about abuse and damage of PTSD and the maladaptive ways some victims may use is interesting as long as one knows other, more normal Estonian women, but when the ONLY image of who an Estonian woman is comes from such a story, it sure does make some Estonians uneasy. And, if you are a native English speaker, do tell me about how many Estonian women have you read in fiction?
“Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” That is the wisdom Mariams mother gives to her little daughter.
And the marriage of Mariam seems to prove this point, as her much older husband Rasheed certainly turns out to be fast to accuse and free with his fists to release tension.
Yet the abuse itself is nothing specifically Afghan, but widespread in traditional patriarchal world. Or, as it gets said out loud (regarding life in a Vietnamese village in middle of 20th century, quoting from “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” by Le Ly Hayslip vith Jay Wurts) : “In fact, wife beating was so common it was accepted as a necessary way for men to blow off steam and, oddly enough, keep the family together – for we believed the main reason men abandoned their families was because of bad karma: they had lost all hope of living a happy life. Like the extremes single mothers sometimes went to for survival, we accepted wife abuse without condoning it – as an unfortunate but sometimes inescapable part of life, like hard work or disease.”
As conclusion – I did find the book thought provoking, as it made me ponder about more general questions of fates of women* and of what we seek in novels. Of how hard it may prove to be THE writer to introduce your country to English speaking readership at the moment.
* for me it is fascinating to compare the fate and the resulting actions of Mariam and Laila to fate and actions of Aliide and Zara. I would be very interested to discuss these similarities and differences with other people, who also have read both “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini and Purge by Sofi Oksanen.