Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Just now I've completed reading the second novel by my recent favorite writer Khaled Hosseini, "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Ever since I read "Kite Runner" I just fell in love with this new writer. I've been always very passionate about the Bengali writers - specially Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay and off course, not to mention, Tagore - for the intricate sentiments with which they weave a diamond necklace out of simple characters. Might be due to my lack of extensive reading in English, I never found much of that type in English. My English readings are mainly limited to best sellers or classics. I was ecstatic when I read "Love Story" by Eric Segal because I got the glimpses of those simple sentiments and free flowing emotions that I generally see only in the Bengali writings on the backdrop of rural Bengal. Most of the English novels are rich in plot, characters, climax and ingredients. But they most often lack simplicity. Eric Segal had already started breaking my idea of English writings and Khaled Hosseini has now totally shattered it. And I'm really so happy.
I have been always quite put off with the silly translations of some of the best works in Bengali. The simplicity always get washed away in translation. I've always wondered how would have Sarat Chandra or Bibhuti Bhushan written had they been born in England. I can say very well now that they would have written something like what Khaled Hosseini writes. His "Kite Runner" reminds me of Apu, the child whose life is like a song, despite the hardship he has to endure throughout his life. The optimism in his character, the life in his life and the urge to live through everything have always stunned me. The brazen and cruel world of Afghanistan, the poverty, the harrowing experiences of Taliban etc never seem to be cruel or prominent. The simple life, which swings in the air like a light fallen leaf, surpasses everything else.
I don't remember how many times have I gifted "Kite Runner" to my friends and relatives. I was waiting eagerly for the next book by Khaled Hosseini. My father bought "A Thousand Splendid Suns" on his way to Bangalore at the Calcutta airport. Very obviously I'd given "Kite Runner" to my father and inflicted the Khaled-Hosseini-bug in him. And even more obviously I didn't allow him to carry the book back to Calcutta. But for many reasons I couldn't read the book for almost a year. Only very recently I started reading the book and completed it in a few days. Well, to be very frank, I somehow lacked the passion and excitement that I felt after completing "Kite Runner".
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is indeed a more researched work than "Kite Runner". It deals with Afghanistan in a much more vivid manner. It gives you a crash course on the socio-political scenario and happenings of Afghanistan over the past few decades.
The story is about two women, Mariam and Laila, hailing from totally different backgrounds, but finally coming together by the turn of events. Mariam is the illegitimate child of a rich businessman Jalil from Heerat. She is brought up by her mother, a past maid at Jalil's house, deprived of Jalil's association and recognition. Even before she starts dreaming, all her dreams are shattered when she is married to Rashid, a cobbler from Kabul, at an age of sixteen. Rashid is a typical wife-bashing, heartless, uncultured and primitive person, who might represent majority of Talibanised people of Afghanistan. The other woman is Laila, a very bubbly girl born to an educated and cultured couple. Laila grows up with Rumi's and Hafez's ghazals, her father's profound knowledge and teachings about life and people, and off course her love for Tariq, a boy little older then her. As she grows up, grows her love for Tariq and fate pulls them apart. Tariq vanishes after their first love making and Laila's life gets entangled with Mariam's. In the backdrop is the changing political and social scenario of Afghanistan from royalty to Russia to local warlords to Talibans across three decades. It's a story of love, and only love, which triumphs above everything else that goes wrong for both Laila and Mariam. It's a story of hope too - the hope for the sunny mornings after the long wintery nights of Talibanism. It's the story of Kabul, Heerat and the entire Afghanistan that changes radically over years. It's a story of endurance, a story of immense unimaginable hardships, a story of courage, a story of revenge and repentance and deceit.
There are off course a few things that I didn't like. The episodes of Rashid's wife-bashing are too prolonged and repetitive at times. The decsriptions are too graphic and become gross. Also the climax is quite premature and ending is mellow and predictable. Nevertheless, I'm moved after completing the novel. It's surely a novel worth reading. In English not many people write such stories, so rich in emotions but so simple in nature.
I love it!!

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