"A Thousand Splendid Suns": thank God I'm a woman?

The sentence belongs to a slogan by the intimate clothing stores Women's Secret, which theorically (I repeat, theorically) wants to make women feel good by having them wear their sexy/lolitesque underwear and pyjamas and other girly stuff like that. I say theorically, because they rarely have my bra size, and I rarely like their designs, so I guess we're even, but they make me feel bad about having my size 100B/95C chest (Spanish measurements) and these wonderful hips of mine. Still, those shops have like a magnet effect over me (especially with the word "sale" on the windows), which results in me buying panties with butterflies and ribbons and those things I wouldn't normally wear on a t-shirt.

So, the slogan. It's kind of catchy, actually. Think about it: we get to have sooo many colors, sooo many designs, sooo many cute strings and culottes, wonderbras make our boobs look so big and nice and in the right place... So we can wear those adjusted clothes with those wonderful 12 cm high heels and have all men staring at us. Seriously, is that what designers think we all expect from our knickers? (Sorry for mixing British and American vocabulary there!)

That's a very Western (and superficial and materialistic) point of view of things. Still, they have a point: even though we get to have the f*cking period once a month, are tacitly obliged to follow the latest fashion tendencies even if we look horrible in those skinny-cut jeans or can't wear high-heels because then we look taller than the average man in our country (this is getting suspiciously autobiographical), or get paid less for the same job or are made feel bad about having chosen a career typically "for men", or are more objectified sexually speaking than men are (and there I stop it before this gets out of control), I'm glad that I'm a woman.

Despite that women in the so-called western world still have a long way to go in order to get the same recognition as men in many aspects, in many places (even in the western world) it's especially hard to be a woman. And this is what the book I'll review in this entry is about: being a woman in Afghanistan.

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini, 2007)

Mariam is a harami, an illegitimate child of a very powerful man of her village. This means that, even though she gets to see her father once a week, he doesn't want her to be seen in the village, so Mariam and her mother live in a kolba, a hut. However, Mariam thinks that her father does love her and decides to visit him in his home, but is left to sleep in the street as not to bring her shame as a harami into the house.

When Mariam's mother hangs herself, Mariam's father agrees to bring her home and, after being pressured by his three wives, they sell Mariam, who is now 15, into an arranged marriage with a 40-year-old man from Kabul: Rasheed, a shoe-maker and a very traditional man. Mariam is afraid and feels terribly guilty of her mother's dead, and Rasheed's attitude goes from lovely to cruel as time goes by and she has several miscarriages.

Parallel to Mariam's story is that of Laila, who was born in the same night that Afghanistan became the Democratic Republic of Aghanistan under the rule of the communists. Contrary to the traditional lifestyle that Rasheed follows, in which his wife must not be seen by others and must only have children and do house chores, in Laila's home they are more progressive and her mother even went to university.

Laila grew up with her neighbour and best friend Tariq, but as they grow older she realizes that she is in love with him, but in 1989 another war begins in Afghanistan, in which Laila's brothers are killed and which makes her mother become anti-communist. But as that war ends in 1992, a new one begins and Tariq and his family decide to leave Afghanistan, a decision that tears Laila's world appart. That same war kills her parents, and Laila is brutally wounded.

When she wakes up again, she is in Rasheed and Mariam's house. They are taking care of her and when she finally gets better, Rasheed proposes marriage to her. She quickly agrees and soon becomes pregnant, but she bears a girl, which leads into Rasheed starting to hate her. On the other hand, because she is now the favorite wife, Mariam also starts to hate her until one day Laila saves her from Rasheed hitting her again.

This event makes the relationship between the two women grow stronger every day and the two of them learn to help each other in order to survive in a context where being a woman is anything but easy.

Thank God I'm a woman?

Quoting the review extract from O, the Oprah Magazine: "Love may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider the war-ravaged landscape of Afghanistan". Personally I didn't know anything about Aghanistan's recent history, except for the US invasion back in 2001, so it was quite a surprise to learn some of it through this book. Because of the Afghanistan invasion, we learned that Afghan women were forced to obey a series of "laws", among which was the use of the burqa, and apparently it was all written in the root of all Muslim-world evils: the Koran.

Apparently, though, nothing about this is written in the Coran, but certainly the Muslim world is dominated by men, and at risk of being called an ignorant, a racist, a stupid woman and other nonsense, I'd venture to say that it's actually not that different from the Western, Catholic/Christian world. Not so many years ago, Spanish women could not go anywhere outside of the country without their husbands' (or closest male relative in charge of them) permission or even open a bank account without a man. I consider myself to be very lucky to having been born in a place and in a time that has allowed me to do all I've done in spite of being a woman.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, born in two different generations but both victims of their time and their society, who fight against the adverse in order to survive and be as happy as they can. If this story took place somewhere other than Afghanistan, probably certain things would be different (no burqas, no kolbas, no three wives, no wars), but you could probably tell a similar story of love and strong friendship.

The novel is written in a clear style with uncomplicated sentences, mixing some words in the diverse languages and dialects of the Aghanistan people, as well as litetary references (songs, poems, translated quotes from the Koran, etc). Luckily for all of us who are not familiar with the History of that area of the globe (other than that that affects the Western world directly or more recent history), the author makes some short explainations that don't turn into a lecture on Afghanistan History but are really useful to understand the context in which the protagonists must live.

It made me cry. I don't know why, but my summer readings (this book, Les veus del Pamano by Jaume Cabré, and This charming man by Marian Keyes) made me cry at some point (am I turning into a sensitive person?), probably because the narration was very well written and strong enough to move something inside of me and eventually identify with the characters and feel sympathy for them. I definetely recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns.

(and I will try to write shorter entries in the future, as I will change the blog's layout because I'm not really fond of it)