A Thousand Splendid Suns is a 2007 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. It is his second, following his bestselling 2003 debut, The Kite Runner. Mariam is an illegitimate child, and suffers from both the stigma surrounding her birth along with the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. Laila, born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband.
Khaled Hosseini’s novels are shamefully manipulative. His protagonists in the bestseller The Kite Runner and the new A Thousand Splendid Suns are never merely sad: They’re perpeturally wretched creatures, raped, beaten, betrayed, and tormented by suicides and murders poetically timed to exacerbate their guilt. They have everything they care about ripped away from them and nonetheless have to struggle to survive in a grotesquely malevolent world. And they live in cultures that make all this not merely possible, but the societal norm. To some degree, that justifies Hosseini’s plotting: The horrors he describes are certainly happening in the real world, albeit usually with less cruelly apt calculation. But while his books are absorbing, it’s hard to miss how hard he’s working to make them emotionally exhausting.
Like Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a sleek, accessible book flavored with incidental detail about life in Kabul, though the focus is more on inner landscapes than outer ones. As Laila and Mariam suffer, their travails are meant to excite pity, empathy, and desire for justice, and the characters and storyline are so well-crafted that it’s easy to fall into Hosseini’s web. But it’s just as easy to give in to a lingering sense of being played for empty emotion. A stronger sense of place, of history, or even of a broader world outside all the agony-aunt miserabilism might have suggested that there’s more to this book than just feeling really bad in order to feel good when it’s all over.