Khaled Hosseini's gift is in wiping away the dirt crusted, distant image that television has given his native Afghanistan to reveal worlds of color and texture that decades of armed conflict have failed to suppress. In his new book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, he masterfully untangles the myriad political and military factions that have robbed the country of it's ancient grandeur. Yet this is just the backdrop to Hosseini's continuation of the theme begun in The Kite Runner, which is, that true friendship is eternal and deems everyone who experiences it consequential.
Mariam spent her childhood, of dishonorable beginnings, in a hillside shack overlooking the outskirts of Herat, not too far from the Iranian border, with her mother, who had been exiled from the community. Laila grew up in the grand city of Kabul to the east, the beloved child of educated, middle class parents. Yet the patriarchal underbelly of Islam served as the tool fate used to bring them together. Mariam, fifteen years Laila's senior, sheds her initial distrust of Laila to form a bond of necessity that melts into ties based on trust, love, and a shared tragic existence.
As in The Kite Runner, Hosseini follows his characters through over thirty years of their lives, effortlessly skipping over long periods of time while leaving the reader with the impression that we lived each untold day with Mariam and Laila. He reinforces the axiom that our present lives may be a product of all we have done, and all that has been done to us, but our true worth is found in the ways we choose to give ourselves up for someone else.
Hosseini had a lot to live up to after crafting The Kite Runner, a book whose characters and plot still linger with me some two years after I've read it. The "hook" in A Thousand Splendid Suns isn't quite a gripping as in his first book, and even fairly predictable. But his writing style has improved significantly, and he ends his novel with as deft a touch as in The Kite Runner, making me believe Mariam and Laila will live on in my imagination for many years to come.
A Thousand Splendid Suns will be released on May 22.