A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini and Harmattan, by Gavin Weston
Okay, so chronologically these are not my two most recent readings. I finished Harmattan today but I can’t remember how long it’s been since I read A Thousand Splendid Suns. These days I recall events as “before and after the move” so I am sure I read it last year before October, before we moved to this part of Northern Ireland.
Both stories take place in the Muslim world (Afghanistan for A Thousand Splendid Suns, Nigeria for Harmattan), in countries ridden by war, poverty, and death.
Both novels revolve around young girls whose lives are maimed by their unfortunate circumstances: war and the Afghan society’s prejudices in Mariam’s case; illness and the Nigerian society’s inability to look after its innocents, in Haoua’s case.
In both cases, the girls are left without their mothers’ tender presence and vigilant protection from a young age, to the mercy of ruthless, uncaring, selfish fathers who perceive them as offsprings, but not as in the definition “a child of particular parentage” but as in “products” to be sold for their own profit.
Both girls become, unsurprisingly, victims of sickening marital abuse and end up, in their despair, butchering their tormentors/husbands. Mariam is an older version of Haoua or, if you want to reverse the equation, Haoua never allows herself to grow into Mariam and ends the abuse much sooner.
The ultimate relief out of their circumstances is DEATH, for Mariam in front of a Taliban platoon, for Haoua rotting slowly in a putrid jail cell. No redemption and no redeemer…
Harmattan starts deceptively with the description of the day-to-day, “normal” life of a young, innocent Nigerian girl and her family. What drew my attention to the book in the first place was actually the fact that Haoua, the young protagonist, has as pen pals and sponsors a family from Northern Ireland, from a village not far from where we live at the moment! But that’s where niceties of civilised life start and end really, with this book: the delicacy of character and feeling is literally drowned by the series of events that follow. As I continued to read the book I realised that there was more to this book than what met the furtive glance: this was the story of an African girl from a white man’s perspective. Haoua narrates the story herself but she does so uncharacteristically for a twelve year old, maturely and with great dignity. As a girl who grew up in communist Romania where little value was put on human dignity I found this perspective refreshing, healing even. This book proved to be, surprisingly, a trip down the memory lane that has righted some long inflicted wrongs. But in all honesty, this book “feels” to the reader as one written from the outsider’s, civilised man’s perspective and its faith in the human decency is refreshing, yet slightly unbecoming of the story’s unfolding tragedy at times.
On the other hand, A Thousand Splendid Suns is written from a much more realistic and down to earth point of view. The tragedy is portrayed through an almost clinical eye and nothing leads you on to believe there will be anything but sorrow under the tragic circumstances. I recognise the perspective as I was raised under Communism with the same mentality: life is the way it is, accept it! It’s a prevalent doctrine characteristic to all nations who suffered indoctrination and dictatorship. It’s a doctrine that permeated life in all its aspects and can’t be shaken off because it was inoculated in one’s heart early in life. I can relate to Hosseini’s point of view easier because I’m more familiar to it.
I suppose both books support simple truths that my mum passed on to us from when we were young:
-children are best looked after by their own mummies and I truly hope God will grant me the health and the means to raise and enjoy my child.
-when nations collapse the first to suffer are the innocent, the children and the women.
-beware of people who have nothing to lose, even if they appear weak and their spirit broken!
-education is important, even if the ignorant tell you otherwise, they are only supporting their own weakness!
-the human heart has the incredible ability to love despite the worst adversities and to hate with withering strength, sometimes all at once!
Wow, Oana very deep review. I loved it, even if I only have read “Thousand Splendid Suns”.It is horrid in a way to live this kind of life.Above all you are so right about the simple truths.Thank you! x
Thanks Iva. It just troubled me to read another story about yet another tormented young girl and I needed to write about it.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your review – both very powerful books and I see what you mean now about the similarities, even to the book covers.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your review. I see what you mean about the similarities, even down to the book covers. Brilliant review of both novels.
Thank you, Trish! Keep in touch!
My publisher just told me about your review of HARMATTAN. Thanks for taking the time to read it. (Just for the record, the book is set in Niger, not Nigeria.) Haoua’s story is based on that of a child whom my family and I ‘sponsored’ for six years and who really was married off by her family before her twelfth birthday.
If you would like to help raise awareness about the 10 MILLION girls lost to child marriage every year, please support FORWARD UK, who are doing fantastic work to bring about change, along with organisations such as Girls Not Brides. (I have recently been invited to serve as an ambassador for FORWARD UK and am honoured to accept.) You can also follow both them and me on Twitter, at @FORWARDUK and @WestonOfTinTown
Finally, the TPB publication of HARMATTAN will be launched at No Alibis Bookshop in Belfast on June 2nd, 2012. You are most welcome to attend!
Oh, sorry Gavin about the Niger-Nigeria thing :-). I enjoyed reading it and was saddened by the way it ended because I am aware it’s the destiny of so many girls in the third world. Please let me know how I can promote FORWARD UK’s work and I will definitely do it through my blog and my Facebook page. I will be in Belfast in June and I will be honoured to attend the launch. All the best, Oana
I posted about A Thousand Splendid Suns last year. Here is the link:
I haven’t yet read Harmattan.
Like yourself I have just read Harmattan. Unlike yourself I have not yet read A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was on my ‘to read list’ but unfortunately having read your review I now know the ending so will be in no hurry to read it. Perhaps in future reviews you could allude to an ending without spoiling it for potential readers???
Regarding Harmattan, I found it captivating and thought provoking although my understanding of the end clearly differs from yours in that for me there was no indication that Haoua dies. In fact I felt it was left open for a sequel. Another inaccuracy was the setting although i see that has already been pointed out.
Jan, I would still encourage you to read A Thousand Splendid Suns. The ending I “spoilt” for you is just one of the two in the book. There is another story that goes parallel with Miriam’s at which I haven’t even alluded. And I would also say the book has a literary richness and plenty of historical data you might want to explore that go way beyond Miriam’s story.
I am sorry again I have “spoilt” it for you. I will take your suggestion into consideration for future reviews. I read this book a year ago so I assumed it’s old news in the literary world. I wrote the review for the pure pleasure of it. Blogging is less about inaccuracies and more about personal impressions ;-). All the best!
Thanks Oana. It’s a much talked about book so I do intend to read it. : )
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