The Life of Bon: Book club November: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book club November: A Thousand Splendid Suns


Welcome to book club, chicas!

2013 Book Club Schedule
February:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
March:  The Fault in our Stars by John Green
April:  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
May:  Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
June:  Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
July:  The Help by Kathryn Stockett
August: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
September: Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
October:  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
November: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
December:  We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver'

For those of you recently joining us, in January readers chose 11 books to read throughout the year.  We read one a month and  the last week of every month (usually a Thursday) we discuss the book and pretend that we are eating yummy food and drinking warm apple cider while doing it.  You can join in on any month, and if you miss a month and then read a month and then miss the next month that's fine too! Sometimes we won't all finish the book (I admit I never finished Life of Pi) but the point is that we all get together to talk book and rejoice that we have beautiful minds that let us read this stuff.

In a few weeks we will decide what books we will read for 2014.  You all will give suggestions and then we'll all vote and get 12 awesome books in line for the year.  I have really loved doing this book club and have found that it has helped me to read books I wouldn't normally read as well as given me an opportunity to re read some of my absolute favorites.

A Thousand Splendid Suns definitely falls under the "absolute favorites" books.  I first read this the summer I came home from my mission and I remember staying up late reading it on those hot summer nights and crying all the way through it.  Some of the images are so powerful and graphic that they have remained in my head since first reading it (Miriam being forced to eat rocks, Laila having a C-section without any anesthesia.)

A brief overview: For those who haven't read or don't know what the book is about, it details the lives of two women in Afghanistan from the early 70s to the year 2000.  The book deals mostly with the mistreatment and injustice for the women in Afghanistan, but it also talks largely about the political turmoil and general unrest of the country during that time.  It sounds like it might be dry or boring, but Hosseini is an incredibly story teller and you are drawn in immediately, first to the story of Miriam who is the bastard child, harami, of a rich man and his servant.  Her mom hangs when Miriam is only 15 and then her dad agrees to let a man 40+ years old marry her.  Miriam never sees her dad again.

Later we are introduced to Laila who has her own difficulties, but has a bit more spunk and tenacity for life than Miriam does.  One of my favorite things about this book is Laila's relationship with the childhood friend on her street, Tariq.  They grow up together and when Laila is 14 they share their first kiss.  These scenes between them are written so innocently and tenderly- they are beautiful.

Their first kiss is one of the best kissing descriptions I've read, I think mostly because of the innocence and sweetness that it conveys.  I love the childlike innocence from the scene and the imagery of two teenagers kissing sweetly under a tree while their country is killing all around them was very sharp and beautiful to me.

"He slid closer to her and their hands brushed, once, then again.  When Tariq's finger tentatively began to slip into hers, Laila let them.  And when suddenly he learned over and pressed his lips to hers, she let him again.  At that moment, All of Mammy's talk of reputations sounded immaterial to Laila.  Absurd, even.  In the midst of all this killing and looting, all this ugliness, it was a harmless thing to sit here beneath a tree and kiss Tariq.  A small thing.  An easily forgivable indulgence.  So she let him kiss her, and when he pulled back she leaned in and kissed him, heart pounding in her throat, her face tingling, a fire burning in the pit of her belly."

The book is a fast read because it is so interesting and the story so completely engrossing that I found myself reading it every spare second once I had started it.  I read it in about three days this weekend.  I don't recommend reading it this fast, however, as there is so much killing and abuse that it can be hard to stomach it all.  I felt like I would have been better if I had given myself a week or two to read through it, but I really couldn't put it down.

There is a happy ending and that may be what makes the book so enduring.  Throughout its entirety the book is filled with abuse and injustice and great heartache.  I love though, that ultimately it ends up being a story of the power of love and forgiveness and great loyalty.

Afghanistan's history is really highlighted in the book and understanding all the politcs behind the unrest may have been the most difficult part for me.  There are lots of Afghan words interspersed throughout the book: shaheed, muahideen, namaz, Taliban, Pashtun.  This certainly doesn't keep you from understanding the book, but I think I would have enjoyed the book even more if I was more familiar with the history of their country.

Favorite quotes:
“A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated...” 

- “A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed. It won't stretch to make room for you.” 

- “Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.” 

“I'm sorry," Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on.” 

“With the passing of time, she would slowly tire of this exercise. She would find it increasingly exhausting to conjure up, to dust off, to resuscitate once again what was long dead. There would come a day, in fact, years later, when [she] would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory's grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by [his] name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion--like the phantom pain of an amputee.” 

“And that, the story of our country, one invasion after another...Macedonians. Saddanians. Arabs. Mongols. Now the Soviets. But we're like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing.” 

I don't want to give away too much that happens in the book so I will end my thoughts here.  As always, please add in your two cents or leave a link if you did your own book review.  Here's some questions to get your mind thinking if you need them.

Discussion questions:
+What is the significance of the title?  Does that play into the significance of the work as a whole?

+ The book is largely about the mistreatment of Afghani women.  Does it feel hypocritical to you or 
inaccurate that it is written by an Afghani man?

+  What point does the book make about women and education.

+   By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her.

+ Laila’s friendship with Mariam begins when she defends Mariam from a beating by Rasheed. Why does Laila take this action, despite the contempt Mariam has consistently shown her?

+ Growing up, Laila feels that her mother’s love is reserved for her two brothers. “People,” she decides, “shouldn’t be allowed to have new children if they’d already given away all their love to their old ones.” How does this sentiment inform Laila’s reaction to becoming pregnant with Rasheed’s child? What lessons from her childhood does Laila apply in raising her own children?

+ While the first three parts of the novel are written in the past tense, the final part is written in present tense. What do you think was the author’s intent in making this shift? How does it change the effect of this final section?

Oh, and get reading for December!  Our December book is We Need to Talk about Kevin and our book club discussion date will be Thursday, December 19.  We Need to Talk about Kevin is the story of "Eva- the mother or an unlabavle boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday.  Now, two days later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a seises of startling direct correspondences with her estranged son." (Taken from the back of the book.)


  1. I'm not one to comment a lot but I am apart of a book club that read A Thousand Splendid Suns earlier this year and it was a fantastic read! Truthfully, I really didn't want to read this book at first. I'm more of the murder mystery/suspense type book reader which is the exact reason why I got into a book club, so I could expand my horizons. This was a great book to read and provided a lot of thinking on my part and great discussion for our group.

    I really enjoyed the way that Laila and Mariam's relationship blossomed. I had a soft spot in my heart for Mariam after all that she had gone through in her life and never really truly being loved by anyone to finally having someone who actually did love her. I believe the reason why she didn't like Laila at the beginning was because someone was stepping on her territory even if it was a horrible existence. It was all she had to hang onto.

    All in all I think it was a very well written book and it made my heart break for the Afghani people and all the hardships they have had to endure.

    As for the book you are going to read this month, We Need to Talk About oh my. My book club just finished reading that book a couple of months ago and it was a doozie!! No one in our group has children and I don't believe any of us will actually ever have children so I'm very excited to hear your point of view on the book as well as others. It was one of those books that even after I finished reading it I thought about it for days on end. Good luck!!

  2. I haven't read A Thousand Splendid Suns in many years, so I don't feel particularly qualified to join in with the discussion questions. However, I did want to mention that the quote "A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated" really caught my eye. I recently read Democracy in America recently for my European history class and Tocqueville argues for the same thing. I just find it really interesting to make these different parallels between texts.

  3. I got this book a few years ago after I had to read Kite Runner for school. I've read this book about 3 times since then. There is just a strong bond I feel the reader instantly has with Mariam. Amazing book and I cannot wait to read Kahled Hossein's recent release, And The Mountains Echoed.

  4. Maybe I will join 2014 - I love to read but don't have anything to keep me "accountable"

  5. It's been years since I read this book, but I remember it being powerful but also SO hard to read. The pain these women went through was difficult to get through at times. And the thought that while it was fiction, women really did go through these things, made it worse. Thank goodness that it had a good ending! Khaled Hosseini is really an amazing writer, and I'm looking forward to (finally) picking up his most recent book soon!

  6. ATSS is one of my all time favorites, up there with Hosseini's other titles. I have to admit that when Laila and her baby were locked in the hot, dark room I had to flip to the end and make sure they made it out ok. I think his writing is so detailed and so real that I got completely caught up in the gravity of the situation. Loved. it.

  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS BOOK! I'm currently reading his new release: And The Mountains Echoed. He writes such amazing stories!
    You can follow along with my adventures here at Hurry Up and Wait

  8. I LOOOOVE this book!! Khalid Hossein is a wonderful author...made one of my junior classes read The Kite Runner and never before has a class been that into a book

  9. I read Thousand Splendid Suns three years ago and spent every minute of my time filled with heartache the whole time I was reading. It's such a brilliant book. Loved it!

  10. I read this book a few months ago and loved it. It is so well written. I thought it very strange it was written by a man, but that didn't distract me from the story too much. It made me think a lot more about the plight of women in other countries. Great book. And as for next month's book. WOW!!!!

  11. I need to commit to reading a long with your blog next year. I can't wait to see the book list for 2014.

  12. I read this book as I first started to date my husband. There were many nights that he'd come over after a long day of school and work, wanting to hang out with me, and I'd put him off saying, " I want to read about 20 more pages first." Here is my Goodreads review of it.
    I love this book!

  13. I loved this book. It was my favorite so far in our BBC (Bonnie's Book Club, as I like to call it). It was so moving and profound and made me ache for women who face situations like Mariam and Laila's. The final few lines of Mariam's story really got me. The lines read, "'Kneel here, hamshira. And look down.' One last time, Mariam did as she was told." I'm so glad we picked this book for a part of our book club!

  14. this is my favorite book. probably ever. i read it before i had my kiddo, and then again after, and it was a totally different experience. have you read hosseini's new one? i loved 'the kite runner' as well, so i'm looking forward to reading 'and the mountains echoed'.