Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - The Blogger's Book Club

Lily over at her blog has started a virtual Book Club for bloggers, and I was delighted to join up as I am a sucker for a good read and it would nicely doevtail with my real world book club. The only problem is I've got off to a very bad start as I'm running late with this review which I was supposed to have done for today Easter Sunday noon, but I just didn't get organised enough to fit it in. My excuses - the family all round for Easter weekend and working right up to 5pm on Good Friday. (So much for the perception of all public servants having a doddle of a day off on every single holiday - well not this public health nurse!)

So I won't burden you with any more excuses except to say to the other book club members in cyberspace - thanks for dropping by - if you do - and hope you all enjoyed the book too. I have no idea what format your reviews took but I figured to link to Lily's blog and the rest of the current list of Book Club members (highlighted on Lily's post here) I know about would suffice, as well as a notification to Lily on her blog as the host which is courteous at the least.

I have to confess thinking that this would be an easy book to review as I had already read it two years ago and actually have it in hardback. I bought it for our holiday to Spain when our eldest son lived there, and in the days when you could actually include books in your luggage without being charged punitive excess baggage fees for every gram the meagre 15kg allowance and before the rule of one piece of hand baggage was strictly enforced.

Back in those halcyon days my hand baggage consisted of a large African Kikapu - a woven grass basket of the sort used by the local women to bring their produce to the market and which you can buy in most Farmers' Markets in Ireland and certainly in Spanish weekly markets. Into this kikapu I would put all my books and the airport shopping of Tayto crisp 18-packs, Lyon's Tea, and Butlers or Lily O'Briens Chocolates as well as some Denny's rashers and sausages. I guess the now-strictly-enforced rules at departure have put paid to all that largesse and now I am squeezing everything into a tiny little sport bag of specified size, including my handbag and all the books have to be rationed.

In any case it wasn't that easy to review, as I had to skim it again to trigger recall, but it all came flooding back, and I remembered that I was wary of it initially as I thought it wouldn't be as good as The Kite Runner which I loved - we had read The Kite Runner for our local Book Club in Lismore and it was a firm favourite - long before the film came out - and I'd read and heard of this second book and broached it with some trepidation

It was just as harrowing if not more so in many ways. The relationships between the women Mariam and Laila are beautifully portrayed, and the attitude to women in general in Afghan society would make anyone weep. It is a brave book to detail the day-to-day lives of the rural society over a half-century of contemporary Afghanistan and it gives a great historical context to the country's woes that resonate today. I thought the violence was harrowing and wonder how women the world over can cope with such domestic brutality, and none of us can hold the moral high ground as it is pervasive in every society, so-called "civilised" Western ones as well as traditional ones - it is not peculiar to Islam or any faith, and it seems to be a part of the larger opression of women that has been entrenched in law and religion since recorded history began.

There was great love and gentleness in the book, and the maternal love's intensity was well drawn. The resilience of humanity shows through in the way people cope with living in such restricted confinement and yet that is so hard for us in the West to grasp, how women in largely female groupings like harems make life tolerable - not that I wouldn't wish it were different as the lack of choice is the key to the oppression - but I think we underestimate their strength of character at our peril.

Preconceptions go out the window I think - having lived in a traditional Islamic society which was then quite secular - Bangladesh under the martial law era of the late 70s - I witnessed first-hand how wonderfully strong the women were. They were living lives that we would surely see as appallingly oppressed and yet they were fantastically caring mothers - something that shines through in this book too -and they had a great support network of friends and family - and when given the chance were far more capable of managing their finances than would have been thought. These were the women for whom the Grameen Bank was made and who made it in turn such a success that its founder Mohammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

I seem to have digressed all over the place in this review - apologies for that as I am trying to make the deadline before Easter Monday dawns - and I will be more vigilant in future reviews. I take a pragmatic approach to reviews in general - for our local book club we are not very formal and don't prepare written reviews, rather let an organic discussion evolve which is usually very enlightening and generates great debate and passion. I hope this Blogger's Book Club (Acronym notwithstanding!) can do likewise and thanks a lot to Lily for coming up with the idea.

The other members of the Blogger's Book Club

I will link to the other current members' blogs here: Marian at Made Marian, Treasa at Irish Mammy on the Run, Kathy at Rumble Strips, Marie at Diary of a Country Wife, Kirsty at The Road Less Travelled, Val at Magnum Lady, Jen at SmurfetteJens, Edie at Munchies and Musings, Steph at The Biopsy Report and Susan at Queen of Pots

To end - if any of my blog followers/readers who are occasional or avid bookworms would like to join up with this virtual Blogger's Bookclub - please do so, you are very welcome and just sign up with myself or go on over to Lily's blog and tell her.


Winifred said...

Aren't those flights a pain! Mind you I've seen some huge bags of hand luggage taken onto flights since the changes. I wouldn't have dared. BA don't seem to be as strict as I thought they would be. My son flew to Geneva with Easyjet recently and to save money and time, didn't take any baggage, only hand luggage. Must have been quite a good size bag.

I'm trying to take up reading again another hobby I restricted to holidays when I was working. That sounds like a good read, a bit harrowing though. I'm going to take a look at your online book club to see if I can join. Thanks for the information.

Anyway the weather is looking up in a few days time I see. Not sure if I can stand much more of the wet stuff.

Lily said...

Great review Catherine, I loved your weaving of the story of Afghanistan with that of Bangladesh. The book does give a great context to what we see in the news. Too true what you say on violence against women the world over, not being the preserve of any one group. I'm always amazed at the human spirit to make life as good as possible in the most awful of circumstances.

Please keep digressing all over the place in your review, I love where you take us :)

We will all be under pressure to post at times, so there's no issue at all. My only reason for suggesting a simultaneous posting time was so we would post our own reviews and then read each others afterwards. (I had never seen an online book club like ours so was only thinking it up as we went along!) I was delighted that people were interested in the idea of an online book club. It's great to read the different strands of thought coming out in the different reviews.

Have a good bank holiday.

Rudee said...

I've not read either book, but lately, I've not been reading much at all. Maybe I'll mosey on over to the library this week. Your review is compelling on both books. I guess I shouldn't miss them.

Stephanie V said...

That book has been on my list since it was published but for some reason haven't gotten to it. I enjoyed Kite Runner very much and learned a lot.

I'm off to check out the online book club. Thanks for the link.

Catherine said...

Thanks for the quick feedback! I am not sure whether you get notifications - I sometimes get diligent and let you know that I've replied!
Welcome to join this virtual book club, even though Lily came up with the idea I think everyone's welcome!

WINIFRED - hope you get round to reading it - it is harrowing but well worth the effort and there is so much truth in it.The only gripe I have about blogging is that it could eat into reading time if I'm not careful!
I'm glad it's not just me paranoid about budget airlines cuts in baggage allowances!

Catherine said...

LILY - I think I already posted a comment over on your blog, thanks again for starting up this bookclub idea, it is your brainchild and I wouldn't take it from you but if any of my readers want to join I will tell 'em to come along. Thanks for being understanding about my digressions - one of my general traits which is worsened by being under pressure - but this book evoked a stream of consciousness which I just went along with. Hope you enjoyed the weekend even if it's lashing rain now.
Our youngest son's back in Limerick at UL now - I see that's your base! Take care,

Catherine said...

RUDEE - hope you like the book if you get round to reading it - I loved it but it is harrowing in places. I'd say you'll fit it in around cooking, weaving and knitting!and join up the virtual book club if you can.

Catherine said...

STEPHANIE V - isn't it amazing how many people loved the Kite Runner? Our book club was unanimous in its love of it. I saw the movie but preferred the book, nearly always happens - it was the same with Revolutionary Road! Hope you enjoy this if you read it.

Mise said...

That's an insightful and personal review, and you don't look old enough to be a grandmother!

Catherine said...

MISE - thanks for the compliment - not sure about looking old enough but I certainly don't feel ancient! Glad you liked the review and if you're interested just join the group - I think the next book is Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. Well worth chatting about! Hope you get this - I'm presuming everyone has enabled follow-up comments notification like I generally do, helps my blogging etiquette to respond to commenters!

Glennis said...

A good review, specially since you have lived in their world, you have a deeper understanding of the way the women live. Life in a Islamic country is not a nice life for women I don't think.

Catherine said...

GLENNIS - thanks for that - I don't presume any greater knowledge from having lived in a Muslim country - it was quite secular at that time, but a lot of the oppressive laws dated back to the mid-19th century e.g. a Vagrancy Law that led to lone women being rounded up and put in camps/institutions as it was assumed lone women were loose women incapable of taking care of themselves. I worked in one of those centres. I hope that law's been repealed since. It was tough culturally as girls were married off at puberty and often to much older men - is that Islam or the culture of the area? It happens in India a lot too and they are largely Hindu. A debate for another day perhaps!

Gill - That British Woman said...

I haven't read this book, it's on my list of books to read though. I enjoyed the review.

I have added your blog to my list of blogs above my header on my main page. I am a hopeless follower of blogs, I follow better through my list!!

Gill in Canada

Ann said...

I stopped over at Lily's blog and asked to join. I did that before I read your review. So as I said to does one join? I have like you read Brooklyn, but could get started on the next one. I am a slow reader. I haven't read this book, but I did read the Kite Runner and found it very enlightening. I was a bit reluctant to read this one, but after reading your review, has tweaked my interest. Thanks Catherine.

Irish Mammy said...

That damn hand luggage restriction!! I go to the inlaws and with 2 babies it is a nightmare! I like your review and in particular that you found the book harrowing. I found it oppressive. I just wanted to jump right in there and make life nicer for the women. It is an eye opener of the many facets of oppression and brutality that exist. How dreams are quashed, unsuitable marriages are made and how youth is robbed. I just hope the next generation of women have it easier! I'm a late poster sorry about that just posted today!

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when I read that you had an 18 pack of Taytos in your bag. When we flew home from Ireland, I had an 18 pack of Walkers and several packs of Tayto chips in my bag. I was sure they'd be crumbs when we got home but, miraculously, they survived.

Great review - I agree with you, to live in such harrowing conditions the woman have to be strong in character to survive. I was reminded again and again while reading the book of how much I have to be thankful for.

Catherine said...

GILL - thanks for adding me to your list! I just like to keep track of those who are interested in following me too. Glad you enjoyed the review and that this kind of intitiative encourages you to explore new books!

Catherine said...

ANN - I think you are on Lily's list now, it seems quite an open book club actually. Hope you do read this one as it is worthwhile. I see Brooklyn in the €8 offers in Easons now. I had a library copy. I must get the Colm McCann one now, looks good. We have our book club Monday - buffet and chat and a movie , talk about moving away from the original intent! (Some like it hot, should be a nice evening!) all the best,

Catherine said...

TREASA - read your post on the book, great detailed review, and can see why it's harrowing as well as oppressive. We are lucky in so many ways here in a different society. Agree about the luggage - and now it's gone up to €20 per bag for July and August with Ryanair. Bloody gougers as that puts paid to the bargain of the €0.0 or 1 cent flight! I used to travel to Africa with 1,2,then 3 kids in tow, often alone, and had royal treatment from Swissair, KLM, even BA. SABENA were the worst (Such A Bloody Experience Never Again!) and it's hard to credit the changes in airtravel - I was often upgraded to business class if there was room there on those long-haul flights, and I had buggys (like golf carts) ferrying us around the transit terminals in Zurich and Geneva. oh those were the days! And the kids would all go up to see the captain in the cockpit and "fly" the plane a bit! Those pre-9/11 halcyon days!
All the best, keep visiting, Catherine.

Catherine said...

EDIE - you have the distiction and honour of being my 50th follower and have inspired the post after this one! In case you don't have comment following enabled I will drop by your blog and leave a message. Thanks for the adding me bit. Yes, Tayto are ubiquitous here but as rare as hen's teeth in the greater world so all the diaspora pine for them! They probably beat smoked salmon!
keep on visiting and commenting. All the best,

Clair said...

Hi Catherine! Thanks so much for the blog visit via the great jam debate. I'm going to enjoy reading your book reviews for a while before taking the plunge into the book club. (I'd love to join, but don't know if I have the time right now!) x

PS If you like books, authors and the like you should definitely visit The Literary Project ( there's some absolutely fabulous interviews :)