I had read several positive reviews of Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, so when I bought a copy of the book, I was already expecting it to be as enjoyable as Hosseini’s first book, The Kite Runner. I did not expect, though, that while reading this second book, I would have to rush to the privacy of the bathroom several times to bawl there in secret lest the people in the house, who were coming in and out of my room, wondered why I was sobbing while reading.
That may sound a bit too dramatic, but, if you know me, I’m a sucker for drama. That’s why I loved the dramatic twists and turns in the lives of the protagonists and the antagonists and all the other minor characters in the story that was set in Afghanistan, particularly in Herwat and Kabul, places that I had only vaguely heard about. It was hard to imagine how the people lived in what, to me, was a strange and even barbaric culture.
Whereas The Kite Runner was about paternal love, male bonding, friendships and betrayals, A Thousand Splendid Suns was about the sacrificial nature of maternal love, female bonding and the reality of gender bias. This last one was particularly striking to me, because I come from a country where, in many areas, women are considered just as good as men, and gays just as good, if not better, than straights.
I am not going to write a summary of the book. There are plenty here, here and here. But of course, all the summaries and reviews, including this one, do not do justice to the book. It must be read in full to be appreciated.
Let me tell you instead about which parts of the book had me BOL (Bawling Out Loud).
First would be the innocence, the naiveté, of the female protagonists. Many times I wanted to tell the women/children in the story, “Noooo! Do Not Believe That!! Do Not Allow That!! Do Not Tolerate That!!” But always they were helpless against their brute oppressors.
Second would be the time when Laila, the heroine, was about to give birth but could not immediately get into a hospital simply because of her gender. As it was, her baby was breech so an emergency Caesarian section was indicated. Problem was, the impoverished hospital that took in female patients did not have any anesthetic.
As a physician in a third world country I have seen a few minor surgeries done without benefit of an anesthetic. It is incredible how the conditioned mind can tolerate pain. But a C section is not minor surgery, by any means. In some hinterland areas in the Philippines, it can be done under local anesthesia by expert hands. But a C section without any kind of anesthesia happens only in fiction, I so want to believe.
In the book, Laila’s friend, Mariam, held her hand during the entire operation. At the end of that horrid chapter, the narrator goes, “Mariam would always admire Laila for how much time passed before she screamed.”
In my work, I am ever watchful for the slightest sign of pain in the patient; be it a slight tilt of the head, a furrowing of the forehead, a flutter of the eyelids, a single finger lifted, a hint of a whimper, a rise in the heart rate and blood pressure. A scream is way off the scale. Oh, how I wanted to be there with Laila, with my little ampule of Bupivacaine.
So yes, I let myself be carried away by that book. Not too difficult, really, because third in my list of reasons for BOL is that, some parts of the story were my very own, too, written in words that I could, perhaps, never have the courage to say myself. Maybe not in a thousand years.