After I turned the last page to this book a few hours ago, I was wondering why there was so much time between the publication of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and this one (2008 and 2013 respectively). I know good books take time, don't get me wrong. But then I found out a little bit more of what Hosseini does - not only author but he is also a former Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency) and the founder of the "Khaled Hosseini Foundation", a non-profit which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
One reason why I love reading Hosseini's work so much is that it opens my eyes to a completely different culture. Previous to reading "The Kite Runner", "A Thousand Splendid Suns", and this new novel, my knowledge of Afghanistan was limited to the Taliban and war which had seemed to wage on for as long as my memory functioned. Therefore, it was a pleasure to read about the Afghanistan that was, the Afghanistan at peace when people did not have to live in turmoil and girls could go to school safely (though still under the thumb of the Soviet regime...).
Hosseini does not paint a rose-tinted glasses version of Afghanistan, but he does want us to see his homeland the way he and his kinsmen did - not just the version we see on the news. He demonstrates his flair for scene-setting that is both sweeping and yet detailed enough to flesh out an image in our mind's eye while stopping short of describing every rock and blade of grass as could be tempting:
"...no-one in sight but the deep copper gorges and vast sandstone cliffs. The desert unrolled ahead of them...the sky high and blue. Rocks shimmered on the cracked floor."
The imagery is stunning and yet not limited to the deserted landscapes:
"Everywhere, he saw traffic lights, and teahouses, and restaurants, and glass-fronted shops with bright multicoloured signs. Cars rattling noisily down the crowded streets, hooting, darting narrowly among buses, pedestrians, and bicycles...The sidewalks...were crowded with cigarette and chewing-gum sellers, magazine stands..."
In terms of plot, the opening chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. Suleiman, Pari and Abdullah's father, tells them a story in which a div, comes to the village and takes one child. The child chosen is the favourite of this story's main character, Baba Ayub. Baba Ayub eventually goes to search for his child, only to find him not imprisoned by the div but provided for in every single way. Though it breaks his heart, Baba Ayub lets his son go. And thus we know that this story is going to be heart-wrenching. And it is.
Pari and Abdullah share a bond rare between brothers and sisters - the most touching and evident example given in the novel is the one in which Abdullah traded his pair of shoes in order to get a feather for Pari. However, this is broken when Pari is taken by her father to be adopted by a wealthy couple in Kabul. She and Abdullah are separated, likely to never see each other again. There is a moment on the journey to Kabul when Abdullah, ignorant of what is about to happen, promises Pari that they will always be close, and the position one is in as reader is made all the more difficult, because despite being less than thirty pages in we know that this promise is going to be broken.
The story is not just about Pari and Abdullah, however. It follows the stories of other characters, though by the end of the novel we find out how they are all linked. It is done in a very subtle way and more than once I had to stop and try to remember who was link with whom and where and when in time this was happening. Hosseini builds both his characters and his interweaving plots brilliantly. This is a skill which is hard to master - in both books and films characters can be sacrificed for the sake of plot and vice versa - but it is something Hosseini does almost effortlessly - at least, that's the way it looks on the page.
What I really enjoy reading in novels is the way the authors put themselves in the book. Writers, at least in my experience, write because they want to communicate something but want to do so in the guise of a book. In this case, the message is about creating:
"Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly."
This was said by Pari's adoptive mother, Nila Wahdati, who turns out to be quite a destructive kind of person, but there is a ring of truth in her words none the less. Authors, poets, journalists, anyone who does some kind of writing gains inspiration from their surroundings. For me, it was an RE lesson about genetic engineering and my imagination ran wild with the possibilities of the technology. Often, writers also do this with people, both in their lives and from ages past. It is not wrong, but it is true.
Overall, I loved this book. I picked it up expecting to love it and it did not disappoint. If you are a fan of Hosseini's work, get it. Borrow it. Read it. And don't worry - it won't break your heart and reduce you to tears like his first two did (and I cry *a lot* through books like this) but that does not make it any less profound or moving.
Until next time!