05 March 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

I read The Kite Runner 2 summers ago (after much resistance) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it - it was heartrending, yes, but also fast-paced and quite moving. The writing, though not exactly amazing, was gripping - I honestly didn't want to put the book down. I sort of figured A Thousand Splendid Suns would be similar, and at first, it was. But there were subtle differences. Noticing them, I thought to myself - ah, this is the second novel of an author who achieved a HUGE amount of success with this first. He has a little more confidence this time, can get away with more, and also has, I think, more of an agenda. He's realized that he can get hundreds of thousands of Americans to read something about Afghanistan - what will he tell them? It's a pretty terrifying prospect, really, and I'm not surprised that it seemed to overwhelm him. Because Thousand Splendid Suns seems more like a history lesson than a novel - it's background in Afghan history with a plot attached. And the plot isn't nearly as well executed as in the previous book - the characters are flatter, the events are a bit more melodramatic, and the whole thing seems more like propaganda than literature. Hosseini seems to be simultaneously preaching and pandering to his audience, making them learn their Afghani history in exchange for giving them the suffering Muslim women porn that Americans seem to crave.

While I appreciated the history lesson to some extent, there was nothing subtle about the way it was done. Especially as the novel progressed and started jumping ahead in time, without anything substantial happening in the plot. The emphasis changed from characters to history, so instead of 5 years later, this character experienced this, and meanwhile this was happening, it became 5 years later, this happened, and the character felt this way. It's irritating. On the other hand, you think, well shit, with such turbulent events happening around you, how could you not be focused on them? The typical problem of realism in contexts of historical misery. The other problem, of course, being just how much atrocity will you put in? And will the plot seem credible to an audience reading it in utter security? I mean, how can I judge what is probable in a situation like that, when I know so little about what it's like to be in that situation? Perhaps what seems like cliche really isn't? Still though, it's hard not to feel like Hosseini is, to some extent, delivering what he must know is highly likely to be an extremely satisfying narrative to American readers, one that isn't likely to challenge them in any way. Not that The Kite Runner was especially challenging either, but it came across as being more true to itself.

Hosseini is a skilled writer - but it seems that the massive success of his first novel did not have the best influence on his future efforts.

1 comment:

Micaella Lopez said...

It's also a story to cherish, a story that shows the strength and ultimate triumph of the human spirit and the power to forgive and go on. A story of hoping against hopelessness, of enduring beyond what we think we cannot and ultimately of the very beauty and value of our lives. It is, mark my words, a story to be remembered and cherished.

Reviews Plenty of Fish