29 May 2011

A thousand splendid suns

The first few chapters were really good.  Some good dialogues, the sharp contrast between Nana and Jalil, the kid Mariam's innocence, her want to learn things, etc.  It was all good, until Mariam is forced to marry.  The kid who haven't seen anything beyond her tiny village, the kid who didn't dare to come out of her room in Jalil's house to face anyone, gives a big-girl speech to her father.  She starts "I used to worship you".  If that wasn't unnatural enough, she goes on to say that Jalil was ashamed of her.  She isn't saying that he made her feel ashamed -- which is what the narration leads you to believe, but that Jalil was ashamed of her and that's what hurts her; not her own shame.  She says "Don't come to see me ever again.  Ever," and leaves.

Then the story of her marriage.  The kid who gave such a bold speech goes on to the street and guess what?  She's scared of everyone on the street.  Like, really?  What for?  First day she gets scared and runs back in.  That's okay, maybe that's normal.  But after that she never goes out.  All the women who were curious to talk to her make no further attempts to befriend her and she simply remains friendless.  Even as a kid she had about half a dozen friends in her tiny village, but as a housewife who spends all day alone at home she gets no new friends.

And the marriage.  It keeps getting worse over time.  The author does capture the way the relationship deteriorates, but making it look like there were no good moments whatsoever is just not natural.  I mean, how can a guy be always angry with his wife?  Won't he act like a good guy now and then, at least to sleep with her?!  Would he always come home in a bad mood after work?

I was irritated by all these oddities and decided to stop reading.  Long time ago, I decided that I won't decide on watching or skipping a Tamil movie based on other people's review.  Now, I think I shouldn't buy a book based on Amazon readers' reviews.

Here are some quotes from the book up to the point I read:
  • She did not know what this word harami--bastard--meant.  Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born.
  • Like a compass needle that points to north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman.  Always.
  • Mullah Faizullah admitted to Mariam that, at times, he did not understand the meaning of the Koran's words.  But he said he liked the enchanting sounds the Arabic words made as they rolled off his tongue.  He said they comforted him, eased his heart.  "They'll comfort you too, Mariam jo," he said.  "You can summon them in your time of need, and they won't fail you.  God's words will never betray you, my girl."
  • God, in His wisdom, has given us each weaknesses.
  • A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam.  It isn't like a mother's womb.  It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you.
  • Could she fault him for being the way God had created him?
  • She laid down her prayer rug and did namaz.  When she was done, she cupped her hands before her face and asked God not to let all this fortune slip away from her.
I like this last one, Mariam's prayer, because I have been thinking about this of late.  Don't we all do just that -- the moment we have something we are afraid that we'll lose it.  That's just how scared we all are.  We don't know how to be happy with what we have; we are always busy worrying about tomorrow!


  1. interesting to see your thoughts. i think i now understand why you didn't enjoy the book. you are more of a critical reader. i read just to pass time and because i enjoy it. so we are two different types of "audience".

    all the points you made are fair, i just never thought of all that in such depth.

  2. I don't think I am a "critic reader"; maybe more like someone that understands by visualizing. I build the story and the characters in my own mind as the story progresses. (That's another reason why I read slow.) When there's a contradiction I see it easily. Having read much better authors like Jeyamohan, Tolstoy, etc. also has improved my taste, I guess.

  3. my point is "much better" is subjective. that's all.

  4. Ah looks like we already had a discussion on this and I had forgotten. Having re-read the book since then and also after re-reading your comments on Miriam, I think I must say this. I have a cousin who behaved and continues to behave EXACTLY like this. children do dramatic things, things we don't expect them to do. it's not fair to expect a behaviour from anyone just because you think that's normal, right? so on miriam's character, i think it's fair enough. on the husband, i agree with you. but here's how i look at it - he chose to write only of the bad and left out the good days since that didn't add to the storyline.

    1. This post was written some 3 years ago, so I'm pretty sure if I were to read the novel again I'd react differently to it. (And hopefully write about it with some better English :-)

      I agree that people can behave strangely to an outsider's view when they actually are consistent in their behaviour/style. Maybe I am not seeing the world through Miriam's eyes and that makes it look odd to me.

      Another thing is, most of the time, I want to see life in novels. I don't care much about the story; it's the characters and events in the novel that interest me. When a novel focuses a lot on negatives (or positives) of life, it makes me cringe.