Erica's Book Report - A Thousand Splendid Suns

Saturday, May 3, 2008 |

I just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns- the second book by Khaled Hosseini. It was really good but in a totally different way than The Kite Runner. I had heard from MANY people that the second book was just not as good and that they didn't even finish it. I finally had some free time to read it this past week and I have to say - it made me question why it was so criticized. It started a whole line of thought for me. Without further ado....

To start off objectively in my little book report I will compare why I thought the two books were so different. The Kite Runner is written following a boy's life until he becomes a man. The tragedies in his life have much to do with personal decisions and some smaller part to do with political things going on with him growing up in Afghanistan. It paints a vivid picture of life there and breaks your heart with the choices he makes and his personal journey for some resolution in his life and to be able to live with himself. A Thousand Splendid Suns covers the lives of more than one woman living in different circumstances in Afghanistan until they intersect and then continues from there. The tragedies of this book are mostly caused by the position of women in Muslim society during the constantly changing political and religious climate of Afghanistan over the past 30 years. The problems also have to do with abusive men, but I am not even going to go into the whys and hows of what makes men beat their wives. Especially in a culture with such widely varying views of women's place in the world. I am just going to blame it mostly on religious extremism and the culture of subservience.

I sat down and thought about the two books after I had finished and wondered why the second book was not as widely appreciated. It was written just as well. I think alot of it has to do with the subject matter. For SO many reasons. First of all, the main lessons I learned by reading A Thousand Splendid Suns are about the difficulties of uniting such a divided nation as Afghanistan. I think everything about the Middle East is SUCH a mess. There is no easy solution. While some Muslims think that jihad is justified and others do not there is always going to be lots of violence. Economies cannot thrive or even rebuild when the population is getting picked off bomb by bomb. The book was very vivid in recounting the women's terror filled lives. Terror from the control of their husband and from the violence around them. If you compare those lessons to The Kite Runner, the lessons are very different. The lessons in The Kite Runner are very universal and not as politically motivated. It is not so much a history book as the story of one man and him trying to correct mistakes he made.

I wonder to myself if the reason people like The Kite Runner is that they connect more to a story about a person they relate to better. Is the universal lesson easier to deal with or more interesting than the lessons about one society or country or culture?

Then I watched part of a show on the History Channel about the history of comedy. It interviewed tons of comedians about how they were inspired and what they thought was funny. Then they changed to a subject I had never even considered. The segment was about the fact that men don't consider women to be funny. And let me tell you, every one of the female comedians had some stories to tell on the subject about offensive men in their audiences. All the male comedians tried to be nice, but a few came out and said that they didn't think women were as funny except for a small rare few. One said the subjects women comics want to talk about- ie. cleaning, kids, dating, complaining about men, bore him and he has no interest. I thought it was the evil taking the truth to be hard but whatever.

So to go back to the book report.....I thought to myself -I wonder if this applies to these books? Do men want to read a book about women being abused? Do men only like to read books about men? I am not a man so I couldn't say, but I think it is a very true thing that men are very in their likes. Guys I know like(or maybe I should say respect) male singers, male writers, male actors, male comedians, they only watch informational shows if hosted by men(sorry Katie Couric). The women that entertain them do so only as objects in the periphery.

Another thought that this inspired is that knowing that you are an internationally famous author, and everyone is waiting on your next book, how do you decide on the subject matter. Did he decide to write this book knowing less people would like it but it would touch an ugly subject that needed to be unveiled? Or did he really think it would be as big a hit as the first book?

And to end your curiosity and satisfy inquiring minds, I did like The Kite Runner better, but not in a way that I feel diminishes the greatness of A Thousand Splendid Suns. I think, for myself, that the universal themes of redemption in The Kite Runner probably couldn't be duplicated endlessly over a career. I don't think anyone could write and endless amount of books with that much punch over their career.

These are the things that make me go Hmmmmmmm.


Alison said...

My mother LOVED The Kite Runner, and has been telling me to read it for ages now. It's on my list.

How weird about men not thinking women were as funny. Personally, I think funny is funny. If I don't like one particular comedian's act, I'd watch someone else. Cause, seriously, do all female comedians talk about kids and cleaning? And what male comedian doesn't talk about women? (And I usually find it funny) Why can't the ladies talk about men then? (Don't have as good of a sense of humor about themselves?) Odd.

I enjoyed reading this, Erica. :)

Erica said...

Alison- I was totally floored when I heard about women just not being funny too. I don't think gender has anything to do with funny. The one guy offered up that some women aren't as funny because the topics they discuss aren't funny. I think that's true for any gender. From what the women all said though- some men just don't think any women are funny.

I would speculate that these men also secretely hate and are intimidated by women and are some less than intelligent members of the species.

Back to the book- the only abusive men I've met in my sheltered existance were definitely NOT smart as far as general intelligence is concerned. The egos of stupid men are such delicate things. Tip toe Tip toe.STOMP.

Tamara said...

OK, this post was magic. LOVED IT! Now I think I just have to put my hands on both books. What perfect timing, too, b/c I was just asking for book recommendations! Hooray!

JaneHeiress said...

Bravo Erica! You did a really good job of summing up the strenghts of both stories. I did think Suns was a good book, but it just didn't grab me the same way, because for a novel with a less structured plot--and especially a novel about women, I guess I expect more complex characters. Not that these characters were flat, but they were almost entirely defined by their circumstances. I felt sorry for them, but never deeply rooted for them. I always rooted for Amir in Kite Runner because I am a sucker for stories of redemption.

Oh, and isn't it a fact of life that men don't appreciate female creative work like the other way around? They will read a book by a woman. They will possibly read a book about a woman. But how many men do you know who will read a book by a woman and about a woman? The horror if Harry Potter had been a girl! I don't know why that is.

Wendell said...

Erica, I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns (and I'm a man). I'm not sure what else to say about it except I thought the writing was better than in the Kite Runner. In KR there were a few parts that were unrealistic - running into people from his past - and the emotions felt forced (kind of like Disney cranking up the sentimental music up at the climax of every sports movie they make, along with the shot of the coach beaming with pride). In TSS I think he told a story of survival (both of a land and individual) and a story of love. I liked a TSS better, but that's me.

In my opinion most dissatisfaction comes from having expectations. After an author becomes big time with one book, typically people expect more of the same and anything different is disappointing.

SrananBuru said...

i am what wendell calls a "blog peeper" and i peeped your blog from a link from his blog.

i have yet to read a thousand splendid suns but i have purchased it and am eagerly awaiting the read. i am a literature student and finding time and texts to read outside the curriculum is difficult.

your post, i think, highlights an important but not very well known issue amongst americans and their art or media intake. i have a female friend once who once asked me, a male, to list the books i had read that were written by women, were about women, movies written / directed by women and portraying women's stories. i consider myself a fairly well read person and was embarrassed at my inability to list many besides j.k. rowling. even this illicited criticism. why did rowling choose non-gender specific initials as her professional name? why not joanne? even film, where there are numerous successful and serious female actors that are known for something other than physical appearance (glenn close, julianne moore, vanessa redgrave, the great meryl streep, diane keaton, i could go on), is disturbingly lacking in films about women. this seems to suggest that they are not marketable. this summer, there is one movie that is marketed directly and almost exclusively for women, sex in the city. consider every other summer blockbuster. why isn't there a demand in the market for these subjects?

often many of us do not have the tools to read literature about others. reading about experiences that are foreign to us can be extremely difficult and, often, unrewarding because of the habit of speaking past each other. this brings up the question: should writers of ethnic literature (by 'ethnic' i mean women's lit, african american, native american, muslim, etc. or, anything that represents the experience of someone outside the mainstream) be expected to write to us or is there some obligation on the part of the reader to meet the author on his/her own ground? malcolm x talked about metaphorically adding cream for flavor to coffee, pretty soon it won't be black anymore...

as much as i loved kite runner, it is written from the p.o.v. of an assimilated and secular afghani immigrant. he isn't muslim but is familiar with it, and his greatest difference, on the page, is his ability to speak another language. what are the demands that hosseini is requiring from his readers with a thousand splendid suns? it isn't always that we look for our similarities but that we recognize, awknowledge, and validate the difference in the subjects we are reading about / viewing, etc. are there aspects of polygamy that are beneficial to the women involved in them, despite the potential (and often too real) dangers associated with the institution (see warren jeffs)? how can a male reader come to appreciate the bond of sisterhood in 1,000 splendid suns without seeking to replicate it or pretentiously absorb it?

in short, i think that there is (obviously) an enormous gap between men and women in our culture. these inabilities to discourse, give and take, and validate demonstrate this. difference is inherent in us as people but learning to appreciate the otherness and experiences of others, without the blending of bland assimilation, will enrich our culture and strengthen relationships and society.