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16 June 2008 @ 10:07 pm
and blah, and blah, and blah  
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
My dad interrupted a very thrilling hour of microbiology yesterday and gave me this book. He said I Must Read It, For It Is Good. Now, my dad's an intelligent guy and he'd probably be a discerning reader - if he had time to read more. I don't entirely trust his judgment. All the same, I read this. It is that easy to read in a day, despite the ten hours of study and three of driving practice I put in around it.



I'm trying to decide if Hosseini is a good writer. It'd be hard not to be, with this material. All the same, there are parts that make me wonder. The ending, for example. I think the book should have ended with Mariam's death, as it began with her birth. What I'm calling 'the epilogue' in my brain - although it isn't - doesn't add significantly to the story. Any fool could have guessed Laila would call her next daughter after Mariam. Jalid's will was a little too convenient. Yes, the bit about the warlords in their SUVs was chilling, but no one needs to be told that Afghanistan is a shitty place to live. We've kind of got that.

I pretty much figured Tariq wasn't dead, although I assumed the old dude got it wrong rather than Rasheed paying him off. Ergo, the whole thing reads as a love story in a war-torn country - pretty much like all those 'Liverpool Lass'-type books. I've read plenty of those. Even the violent husband isn't new. Rasheed was rather cookie-cutter, so much so that his antics kind of bored me. I would have taken a shovel to him years earlier if I were Mariam.

Aside from the Tariq plot, the events that brought about Mariam's marriage in the first place were rather contrived. It was obvious that Hosseini wanted her sold off in marriage so we'd automatically go OH NOES!, but he didn't make anyone enough of a villian. Her mother handily committed suicide, which - I don't know. If Mariam had slept for a week in front of Jalid's house and made her mother believe she was really gone for good, then yes. A few hours? Not so much. The wives we never even meet until they arrange Mariam's wedding, and I can kind of see why they'd want her off their hands. ('Three's a crowd' must take on a whole new meaning in polygamous marriages.) But Jalid I don't buy. He shagged the servant he clearly didn't fancy, kept up with kid who's got an indifferent personality at best, yet he couldn't come up with a better husband than Rasheed - who is, again very conveniently, old and a bastard? If he could exert himself to build a house with his bare hands, have his sons bring food to his ex-mistress, and visit his lovechild every week, he could have found her a nice dude to marry. What's more, he would have. Hosseini obviously had a mental list that went: horrible marriages, inclusive of beatings, beatings and more beatings, spoiled boy-children, ample poverty and a nice round-off of deceit. All excellent, I admit! But as story arcs, they're tied together with very frayed string.

Also, I'm not sure why he bothered making Laila educated. That she was pretty was enough. I mean, if it were any other backdrop than Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, we'd be calling Mary-Sue. But the only reason for her to be clever was so clunky bits of historical exposition could be delivered in conversations she had with her father. I guess I'm supposed to feel sorrier about Hakim's death because he was nice to women? Instead, he comes off as a mouthpiece. Hosseini could just have easily have inserted this backstory through overheard conversations that Laila didn't necessarily have to understand. The way to generate pity for Laila's plight, her loss of education et al, would have been to make Rasheed her dad.

That's another thing: I was expecting more about 'the horrors of the Taliban', but for Laila and Mariam, the Taliban way of life was already their de facto existence. My strong feelings about the Taliban regime would have been better stoked if Laila's fall from grace corresponded more closely with it. If the bomb hadn't happened to fall, or killed only one of her parents, Laila would have escaped the Taliban. I don't know, it's just weaker this way.

Allah must be the most boring god in the history of deities. No MUSIC? No ART? You can find a lot of shit in the Bible, but I don't think the most fundamentalist of Bible belters could find an excuse for banning art. When I think of all that Christianity contributed to those spheres - how they laid the groundwork for so much creativity that we now possess - sure, they're just as wankiferous as any other religious movement, but at least no Christian ever blew up 2,000 year old statues. (We just burned people at stakes - but hey, you can get more of those anywhere.) It reminds me of Nuggan, who forbade his followers chocolate, mushrooms, ginger and garlic - even other Discworld gods thought that was a bit harsh.

The most important point is that A Thousand Splendid Suns reminds me of another book called The Terrorists of Irushtan, which was very similar but better. It's scifi, set on a terraformed planet that possesses an ore so valuable the other planets let it get away with, essentially, bringing the backwards Afghani village to dominate a whole world. It was obviously a riff of fundamentalist Islam, although I think the religion was cut - just the crazy customs, which have about as much to do with the real Muslim faith as the Magdalen laundries to with Jesus, were retained. It was horrible and awful and frightening and the ending moved me deeply. Then again, you can fix things in scifi. In real life, you just wait around for the next war.

Meh, I think my problem is that I'm judging this book on its own merits and as a standalone story, when in fact the implications of the events described within it far outweigh any issues I might have with its execution.
 
 
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jehnt: sw - poster - esbjehnt on June 17th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
I don't think the most fundamentalist of Bible belters could find an excuse for banning art

But art is a tool of the devil! It'll lead your children into sin! Walk them right down to the gaping maw of hell! Granted, I don't know if it SAYS that in the Bible, but I've heard it from street-corner preachers before.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: CS + TAI: Gabehipsscoradh on June 17th, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
I stand corrected. o.O Then again, I have no idea, so the Koran probably has nothing against it either. Honestly. PEOPLE.
blackstarnebulablackstarnebula on June 17th, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)
I actually liked this story, despite seeing some of the bad aspects you're talking about. However, his previous novel (The Kite Runner) was much better. So if you want a better view of his writing than I would recommend that to you.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Balloonsscoradh on June 17th, 2008 10:26 am (UTC)
I didn't actually not like this, I just didn't love it enough to overlook the faults. This applies to 99.9% of everything I read - or in fact everything except Good Omens - I just happened to feel like writing it out today.

Dad has that one too, so I'll check it out. :D
(Anonymous) on June 17th, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
Actually
The Christians did smash up Mosques during the Crusades. Ancient sculptures, mosaics, art etc. It was all desecrated. Religion is kind of dumb.

-anonmedic
xxx
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue haired boy w/ phonescoradh on June 17th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Actually
All religion is fight club. It wants to destroy something beautiful. *sigh*

I guess the Buddhists never did that, though. Of all religions, they deserve the least to get their creations blown to smithereens.
Lillyse on June 18th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC)
Well, at some point Christians did destroy each other's art too, blah blah iconoclasm God forbids the creation of icons etc.

I don't know about music but I doubt Allah bans all art. Some of those old mosques are just as lovely as old churches, just in different ways.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Candy lipsscoradh on June 18th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
Well. It's good to know what we're fighting against, I suppose. WHAT.

The minarets sound cool. I just don't think 'art appreciation' was on the Taliban's to-do list.