I had a transformative moment on the rooftop of my aunt’s Lagos home at nineteen. I was getting my hair braided, as the sleepy Nigerian town below me slowly awakened, and reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Hosseini’s soulful writing evoked in me a new appreciation of storytelling. But it was his follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns, that has been anointed as my favorite book—a book I always revisit with a fresh pair of eyes.
Equal parts gripping, tragic, empowering, and gorgeously plotted, A Thousand Splendid Suns alternates between two powerful voices, representing vibrant youth and tiresome womanhood, the privileged and oppressed, the educated and uneducated, the loved and love-starved. It brilliantly illustrates how two women of vastly different upbringings find themselves in the same unyielding circumstances in war-torn Afghanistan. Mariam is only fifteen when her mother commits suicide and she is married off to forty-year-old Rasheed. Twenty years later, Mariam, having endured an abusive marriage, must share her husband with his new wife, fourteen-year-old Laila—orphaned when stray bombs kill her parents. The resilience of these women and how they come to know each other is like magic on the page.
It was after my first trip to Nigeria, where I’d had my eyes opened to foreign landscapes—physical and literary—that I picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns. I’d just read The Kite Runner and craved more of Hosseini’s lyrical writing. Hosseini is patient with his readers, carefully setting his stories amidst the beauty and tragedy of Afghanistan’s recent history, and then seamlessly creating a story where an unlikely bond occurs in the midst of it. Upon my second read, I could relate more to the nuances of the story: Mariam’s aimlessness and rejection, Laila’s brazen stance on her right to exist as an educated woman in the presence of men, how both women remained steadfast in a world of constant upheaval. What unfailingly catches me off guard—even as familiar with the plot as I am—is that love actually wins in the end.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a timeless masterpiece that feeds my soul. There is always something new to appreciate in this story of fortitude and unfaltering love. Who’s to know what future visitations will bring?
Tolani Osan works in Corporate Marketing at Simon & Schuster.