I read Khaled Hosseini’s earlier novels, A Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns before I began this blog; I love them both but love the first most.
5 years on, I have changed and I hope Hosseini’s story have changed too because I am not that into soppy, sacrificial and heartbreaking stories anymore and it was in great trepidation that I wish this book wasn’t that heartbreaking as his previous.
And it wasn’t.
The stories of the many characters in this book is still heartbreaking but Hosseini’s writing and plotting has mature. It was sophisticated, plenty of inflection, deftly handled and none of the in your face”I-have-sacrifice-so-much-for-you-and-yet-I-have-been-forsaken” kind of narration. It was sensitive and subtle.
Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari, who meant everything to Abdullah, live with their father and stepmother in the small fictitious village called Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, constantly look for work and struggle to feed his family through harsh winters and poverty. Abdullah was more like a parent than a brother because his stepmother Parwana is always busy with her children, it was Abdullah who took care of Pari’s need. He will do anything for Pari even trading his only shoes for Pari’s wish for a collection of feathers.
One day, encourage by stepmother’s brother Nabi, Saboor took both Abdullah and Pari across the desert and visit Kabul. There, the beautiful Nila Wardati, mistress of a rich household awaits their arrival.
Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the event that awaits them. Once unfold, it will tear them apart. Sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand they say. Pari was adopted by Nila.
The initial impression I have was that the story will be centred around Pari and Abdullah. I was pleasantly surprise that the eight chapters presented was narrated by a different voice. The chapters are narrated by people that are related to both Pari and Abdullah.
- Chapter 1: Abdullah. One of the most interesting parable was his father’s story about a jinn (or a div) who comes knocking on a chosen family’s door to request for a child to be sacrificed otherwise all the family’s children will perished. An omen of what is to happen to Abdullah’s family.
- Chapter 2: Parwarna, stepmother of Pari and Abdullah, reminiscence of the twin she grew up with and how she got married to Saboor.
- Chapter 3: Nabi, is the only chapter narrated in first person, the chaffeur and loyal servant of the Wardhati household, filled the entire chapter with heartrending confession of an unforgivable sin he has committed.
- Chapter 4: Idris, a doctor who is sent to Afghanistan to help the war victims and his friendship with a girl named Roshana, a traumatised victim of the war.
- Chapter 5: Pari who spends her life in Paris and her relationship with her maman. Again a searing and heartbreaking account of misunderstood mother and daughter relationship. It was written with such sensitivity and honesty that would easily be mistaken as one that is written by a female writer. (I am sorry, I am stereotyping but I meant it as a compliment).
- Chapter 6: Adel, a young boy whose father was a powerful ex-commander and politician; who happens to live in a plot of land owned by his friend’s, Kabir, father.
- Chapter 7: Dr. Markos, recalls his life growing up in Greek Island and his relationship with his mother and a friend, Thalia.
- Chapter 8: Little Pari. Abdullah’s daughter, in San Francisco, living in the new world holding on to the old world’s values and memories.
The story started with one good intention. Sometimes “The road to hell is paved with good intentions – George Bernard Shaw”. Hosseini writes expertly about how we love, how we make hard choices for the one that we love, choices that resonate through generations which we can’t undo.
Hosseini could have easily written a linear storyline, have 2 or 3 characters play out the destiny of Pari and Abdullah. Yet, I like it that Hosseini has added layers by introducing different characters that relates to Pari and Abdullah. Each chapter fleshes out each character’s personal story that could stand on its own as a short story, yet these stories contribute to the main plot. It is a novel that branches out, to a different continent and different setting, yet maintain an undercurrent of the main theme. Although the last chapter was a little melodramatic and drag on a little more than necessary, I haven’t read a novel with this structure before. My favourites were chapter 3 and 4, so raw and devastating. The Nila Wardati character was particularly memorable.
The novel is emotionally complex, with clean and engaging prose, a real page turner. It is no wonder that Hosseini sold 6 million copies of his books and in more than 34 countries. I think this novel, his third, is the most accomplished and my favourite ever.
Some of favourite passages:
Pari has not told the children about the suicide. They may learn one day, probably will. But they wouldn’t learn it from her. She will not plant the seed in their mind, that a parent is capable of abandoning her children, of saying to them You are not enough. For Pari, the children and Eric have always been enough. They always will be. – Pari, page 230
I learned that the world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that. My patients knew this. They saw that much of what they were, would be, or could be hinged on the symmetry of their bone structure, the space between their eyes, their chin length, the tip projection of their nose, whether they had an ideal nasofrontal angle or not.
Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly. – Dr. Markos, the plastic Surgeson, page 329
It was in the tender, slightly panicky way he spoke these words that I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice; either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself. – Little Pari, page 367
I google up for review relating to this book and couldn’t find many and ever since I lost google reader I haven’t been able to stick on a particular reader. If you have reviewed the book, do let me know, I’ll add it here.
Angela@Right Here: The thing about Hosseini’s books? You never really get a happy ending. For once, that is ok. While the ending may not be lovers riding off into the sunset, you’re left satisfied. How many books have you read with less than neat/perfect/happy lives endings that still leaving you feeling wowed? Not many.
Hardback. Publisher: Bloomsbury 2013 Printed Length: 404 pages; Setting: Afghanistan, Paris, Greek Island of Tinos and San Francisco, USA Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 9 August 2013, Friday.
About the writer:
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. His novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were international bestsellers, published in thirty-four countries. The Kite Runner was made into a movie. A Thousand Splendid Suns was the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year in 2008.
In 2006, he was named a US Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the founder of Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and lives in northern California.
Bloomsbury has sold over six million copies of Khaled Hosseini’s novels.