Book Review: “A Thousand Spendid Suns” by Khaled Husseini

July 8, 2010

(The metaphorical Riyadh has room for book reviews.)

Anyone familiar with Islam and/or the Middle East will recognize at once that this author knows whereof he writes. He should; he was born and raised in Afghanistan, but has lived in the United States long enough to digest the differences, complexities and contradictions of both worlds.

I wouldn’t have read this book, because I am sick of reading about the poor, downtrodden Middle-Eastern woman. My colleagues, however, are all reading the book, and they practically thrust it upon me. I felt duty-bound to read it and correct whatever misinformation might be pouring forth from the book into their naive minds.

In fact, I was the one who was impressed with the story’s apparent authenticity. Though I’ve never lived in Afghanistan, I know this book could have been a memoir as easily as it is a novel. I won’t go into the plot or the resolution, but I will say that the characters are drawn in all the complexity and irony that marks the human condition beyond its containment within the straightjackets of cultural indoctrination.

I can offer nothing but praise for the book.

The only other thing I added for the benefit of my colleagues was that I’d like to read books about women who are living happily in the Middle East, whose lives are not circumscribed by repressive forces. I know that happy women exist there. I was one of them, and so were my friends. I still have friends who wouldn’t dream of returning to the US to live; they’ve got it too good in Saudi Arabia.

That being said, I do underscore the need to tell the stories of Mariam, Laila, and others like them. Even Rasheed,  ogre that he was, could not have behaved but as he’d been taught to behave from growing up around men who taught him, by example, how to behave.

Tariq, however, as well as Abu Laila, grew up under a different set of values which offer a counterpoint and point of departure for the embodiment of the universal values set forth by all religions.

Novels such as this one are nothing if not an important contribution to the edification of readers who would not otherwise be afforded opportunities to enter into the lives of people like Mariam, Laila, Rasheed and Tariq. This is the kind of novel that can swing the tide of entire populations, and therefore position people for the change that must come before this world can thrive in peace, not only peace between men and women, but between cultures and countries.

The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

Twenty years ago, handfuls Saudi university students started graduating with a B.S. in  Medical Technology. They came to KFSH for their clinical internship, and I was fortunate to have initiated a few of them into the practice of analytical laboratory testing.

One student,  a woman who covered her face, except for her eyes, became a friend, of sorts. After I got over the uneasiness of not seeing her face, and after she lifted her veil in the women’s cafeteria a few times, I relaxed, and we started to compare notes regarding our lives, experiences, and goals, etc.

She told me she was a third wife. She already had a daughter from a previous  marriage, in which she was a second wife. The divorce bothered her not because of polygyny, but because the first husband did not want her to complete her education and work. She, on the other hand, had developed a passion and a talent for her field, and with a strong personality, was not about to give it up.

The current husband, who had two other wives, was fine with her career, and she was fine with the other wives. They all had separate villas, small but comfortable, and this woman lived with her mother and still small daughter.

I was dying to know about the sleeping arrangements, but could not ask directly, of course, so I ventured to ask, “Where does your husband live?”

“With ME!” came her indignant response. At that moment, I wished my own face were covered to hide the redness of embarrassment. I never asked again, sensing that I’d hit a raw nerve.  She never elaborated, except to complain a few times that he had mixed up the nights, and inconvenienced her.

This woman had her cake and ate it, too.