Wednesday, May 22, 2013

splendid suns

Khaled Hosseini made a name for himself with The Kite Runner, in 2003. His followup of life in Afghanistan is A Thousand Splendid Suns, published in 2007. Hosseini was lauded for his debut novel, I think, because of his intimate view of life. Not only is he telling stories of a country that we in the West don't understand, but he tells them in a way that help us to understand what it is to be there, to live there. Hosseini isn't trying to explain what it Afghanistan is, and how it may be different from the places his readers live in or know, but rather, how Afghanistan as a place shapes the people and their history, right down to how they live their lives in their own homes, and even in the hearts. By doing this, Hosseini encourages us to examine how our own places form and shape our lives and our dreams.

What also impressed me about A Thousand Splendid Suns is even though Khaled Hosseini reports in excruciating detail, how difficult women's lives are and have been in Afghanistan, he writes this story from a woman's point of view; a few women, in fact. Splendid Suns follows the lives of these women through the upheaval of the last few decades: from the Soviet occupation, to their expulsion (with American aid to warlords), to civil war between the American-armed warlords and the dissolution of civilized life in large portions of the country, to the eventual wholesale decay of society, which allowed the rise of the Taliban to fill the void, and their eventual harboring of Al Qaeda. Finally, the introduction of American and Allied troops, post September 11, to remove the Taliban and dismantle Al Qaeda (read: kill).

What struck me most is Hosseini's portrayal of the utter hopelessness of the captivity, servitude, and general loathing suffered by women at the hands of men in Afghanistan during the civil strife, and especially the time of Taliban rule, who didn't just turn a blind eye to this but encouraged and indeed mandated it. But it wasn't just that; it was that even amidst this horrific culture of inequality and disdain for women, women continued to have hope. Against an overwhelming crush of oppression and abuse that lasted decades, and in some some places, I am sure, still goes on, women bear up, and refuse to be conquered in spirit. No matter how much their oppressors shoveled at them, they refused to be overcome. And in some small ways, even managed to sometimes shovel back.

Khaled Hosseini has created a modern day heroine story, that left me with my heart in my throat in many instances. It is an enraged clamor in the quiet night of complacency. A story of outrage, laced with beauty, that can--and perhaps has, in spirit--ignite the passion of a people. It is also a reminder to us, who were force fed the stories of American-Allied involvement, what our interventions can mean to the people who suffer both during, and the sometimes worse, vacuous aftermath of our policy of self-interest.

Hosseini has no trouble reminding us of what we may have forgotten: we custom-built these problems ourselves. We fabricated the very environments that later spawned our worst fears and nightmares, and in many cases traded our own feelings of safety and security for that of others. Its a reminder that when we make these decisions to intervene, they have long-lasting implications, that if not seen through to their end, when swallowed in the clamor of 'getting-out-while-we-still-can', they will come back to haunt us. And begs the question: what will come of our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in 20 or 30 years, and will we remember then our hand in its genesis.

Read this book.

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