Five and a half years ago, Johannes mother tongue teacher forced him to read “Thousand splendid suns”. The title noone can remember except “suns something”. He told me to read the book, and I read it in one sitting since you just can’t put that book down. It is so gripping, so shocking, you get upset, you get angry, everything. It’s a book that is hard to forget. When I saw that the author had published another book, I wanted to read it. And my first impression of it, is that it is not quite up to snuff. There is nothing wrong with it per se. But you can definitely not compare it to the previous book. I have not read “the Kite Runner” yet, but I have heard that it is very good as well.
This book is not amazing and it does not stir up a whole lot of emotions, except in the beginning. And perhaps not for the right reasons? The book starts out with a father being on his way to Kabul, with his 3-year-old daughter Pari and his 10-year-old son Abdullah. Through that and the following chapters, the reader finds out, that the children lost their mother, when Pari was born. She bled to death and the father immediately re-married a woman who refused to take care of his two children. She got pregnant right away and gave birth to a son, that died two weeks later from the cold weather. She soon had another son, and this child was the only one she cared about. So, once again we have the evil stepmother. And THAT is what upset me in the book! Who took care of Pari then? Abdullah did. He changed her nappies. He fed her. He gave her safety, love, security. So it breaks his heart when the father sells Pari to a rich couple in Kabul.
Someone on Shelfari described it as a book full of short stories but then the person has misunderstood the book entirely. The book is all about the sale of Pari. Everyone that was involved in it and everyone that somehow got in contact with the main characters of that sale. That a book is all about people who interconnect in one way or another is no new thing, in a way it is getting boring!
The first chapter is all about how Abdullah sneeks with the father and Pari, because he doesn’t want to be left behind, and of course realizes too late what is about to happen to Pari. We find out about the cold step-mother Parwana and the story-telling father Saboor, who is blind to his wife’s neglect, in the second and third chapter. But also about Parwana’s brother Nabi, that comes to the village once a month, in a flashy car to all the children’s delight.
The horrible evil step-mother was what had my emotions stirred up at the beginning of the book and they even got more stirred up when the entire truth about the marriage is revealed. Parwana was born a twin, a fraternal one. She was the ugly one and her sister Masooma, the beautiful, happy, loved twin. Masooma always treated her sister well but Parwana was green of envy when it came to everything, especially when they became 17 years old and all men desired her sister, including Saboor. Parwana had been infatuated with him since childhood and when Masooma in confidence told her sister that he was going to propose, Parwana shoved Masooma out of a tree. Masooma’s spine was injured and she became doomed to a life in bed. Nabi, their brother ran off to Kabul because he didn’t want to help with his crippled sister. Saboor married someone else and Parwana took care of her sister, getting money from her brother and a monthly visit. Then Saboor’s wife died and he needed a new one for his children, and Parwana saw her chance. Masooma realized what her sister wanted, so she had Parwana help her commit suicide and Parwana got the man she had always wanted.
All years after Nabi left the village, Shedbagh, he worked as a cook and driver for rich Mr. Wahdati, that never worked for a living. He painted and he had Nabi drive him all over, but he didn’t really have any friends or social life. Nabi isn’t the rich man the villagers thinks but borrows his employers car, to go home and make an impression every month. After many years, Mr. Wahdati suddenly takes himself a beautiful but wild wife that doesn’t dress the way a muslim woman ought to and doesn’t behave like one either. Their marriage is very unhappy. She is only 20 and much younger than her husband, and she spends more and more time with Nabi, who is completely besotted with her. One day she asks him to take her to his village. She visits Parwana and Naboor, but on the way home she confesses to Nabi that she is not happy, that she will never have a child since she had a hysterectomy the year before she married. We never find out why, but her father took her to India where she had everything removed and one suspects it had to do with her promiscuity before marriage. Nabi, who loves Nila, as her name is, wants to give her something that her husband can’t so this is when he persuades Naboor to sell Pari to the Wahdatis. And he does. Nabi never ever goes to visit his sister again after this. And the Wahdatis become two happy parents, doting over the little girl. For three years and then Mr. Wahdati has a stroke and Nila takes Pari and leaves for Paris. She never goes back but Nabi stays with Mr. Wahdati for the next 45 years. Even after he is told by Nila, on leaving, that Mr. Wahdati is homosexual and loves Nabi.
Now the time jumping in the book really started. Suddenly we are in the 21st Century and the story follows the visit of two cousins in Kabul. They were both born at the same time in the house opposite Mr. Wahdatis. Nabi often took him to watch the boys play. When the Russians came to Afghanistan, the boys’ parents fled to America where at least Timur’s father earned a lot of money. The cousins are very different from each other. Timur is the self-made man who flirts and charms everyone, splashes money around but makes sure that he gets credit for all charitable donations and loans! This really bothers Idris, his cousin, who is an introverted doctor. He resents that he owes a lot of money to Timur, that he would not be where he is without the loans his cousin gave him when he first started out life as an adult. The two come to Kabul to reclaim their parents’ property after the talibans have abandoned the city. There is a lot of money to be made from foreigners, renting the house out, and they don’t want to miss out. But the cousins spend their weeks in Kabul in different manners. Timur runs around doing the legal errands, but he also has time to charm the socks off people, cheat on his wife and make himself generally popular. Idris on the other hand just sits around and sulks, till he visits the hospital and meets Roshi, who was nearly killed by an uncle that wanted revenge for not inheriting property. The girl got an axe in her face and skull and needs surgery. The nurse that looks after her, Amra, asks Idris not to raise the girls hopes. Many have taken pity on her and have promised to help, but then have let her down. Idris promises to fix an operation for her, and leaves Afghanistan intending to talk to his boss about funding it and so forth. But when he gets home, he thinks it is all embarrassing, his spoiled sons take over and the wants and desires of his wife. They have become a selfish American family that have to have it all, with no thoughts about what they can do in their former homeland, if they abstain from a home cinema, thousand dollar sneakers and so on. Idris becomes furious months later when he sees his cousin on the news and how he has paid for all operations of Roshi’s face! So who is the better person? Idris that has the right intentions but doesn’t do anything, who doesn’t want to go out of his own comfort zone nor sacrifice anything for someone else? Or Timur, that wants praise, who doesn’t stay faithful to his wife, but who really do help people with his money. One of the people he did help was another refugee from Afghanistan. Pari’s brother Abdullah, his wife and daughter. He helped them set up a restaurant in the US and stayed a regular customer!
What did happen to Pari and Nila, after they left Kabul in 1955? Well, it was not just a dance on roses for Pari. There has always been a hole in Nila, that needed to be filled, an emptiness. She thought that Pari was the answer but her drug abuse and abuse of men continues, even though she has a child after all. Their relationship is a complicated one. And it get more complicated when Pari falls in love with her mother’s latest lover. And he shows her an interest that he ought not to. Years after her mother discards him, Pari moves in with him. He is much older and their relationship doesn’t work out very well, especially since her mother feels betrayed. 1974, Nila commits suicide, which is only mentioned here and there in the book but we never really find out why or how she did it. Just like with the hysterectomy. Pari marries, has three children but looses her husband early on. And she herself is struck with arthritis at an early age. Her relationship with her children isn’t the best and she thinks it is because she has always felt a void in her life and that things have not been the way they ought to have been. At a late stage in life, she finds out that her mother lied about everything. Her father did not die in 1955. Her mother wasn’t even her mother, nor he her father. Before Nabi died, he wrote a letter to the Greek doctor, that was renting his house in Kabul, explaining everything about the sale of Pari and everything else. Pari finally gets this letter and finds out that she has a brother in the US.
The next chapter takes place in the village of Shedbagh that set the stage for everything. After the Taliban rule, a “war hero” or rather a war criminal, returns and becomes the local do-gooder. He builds schools, hospital, hands out loans right and left, but noone asks where the money is coming from and they keep silent about his body guards and the guns. Turns out he is the local drug lord and that he has come from Kabul where someone tried to kill him. His son Adel, isn’t allowed out of the house that is built-in the old part of the village. The palace is like a prison though and he has found a way to sneek out. He finds a poor boy to play with and they have fun together even if Gholam harbours a lot of anger. One day Gholam reveals EVERYTHING for Adel. How his dad has stolen Gholam’s dad’s land and where the money comes from. It turns out that Gholam is Iqbal’s son and has grown up in a refugee camp in Pakistan with his dad and his grandmother Parwana. Thanks to uncle Abdullah in the US, who kept sending them money, they were able to survive. But now the money are no longer coming and they have come back to claim their property in Shedbagh. Iqbal of course is the favoured son of Parwana’s, and Pari’s and Abdullah’s half-brother.
Dr. Markos Varvaris, is the volunteer doctor that comes to Kabul, to live in Nabi’s house, and who stays on for years, to help out. He is a friend of Amra’s and is involved in the treatment of Roshi among many other patients. He is the one that has to notify Pari, of Nabi’s death, and to tell her the story of her life, including the fact that the house of Mr. Wahdati now belongs to her. His chapter tells the story how he becomes a volunteer doctor. How he in early years got to know young Thalia, a girl whose lower face had been eaten away by her stepfather’s dog. Her mother was his mother’s best friend, and her mother just abandoned Thalia on the Greek island with Markos and his mother. The two of them grew up together. She is an inventor and could have become something great, but because of her facial injuries, she has no future in science or anywhere else. She stays to look after his mother when he goes off on his adventures around the world. She is the reason why he finally studies to become a doctor and her words are the ones that make him a plastic surgeon. She makes him see that no matter what people say,” that it is the inside that counts, not your looks”, it is not true. Your looks are everything. Without looks you don’t have a chance. And how true isn’t it, especially in our vain world of today where we are completely age and look fixated.
In the final chapter the author finally ties up all the strings. Abdullah and his wife settled in America and started their restaurant with Afghani food. They did not want to tempt fate, whatever that meant, so they never had more than one child, a daughter they named Pari. Pari was not allowed to become American, she became an over-protected child that was forced to Koran school and to remain Afghani. When she finally was to break loose and go and study at a University, her mother got cancer and she got stuck at home, taking care of her. When her mother finally died, her father got Alzheimer’s. She did have a fiancée at one point but since she would not cut the apron strings, he left her to grow up as he said. Pari has always known of Pari the aunt. When Pari the aunt, the Parisian aunt, arrives, it is too late. Abdullah really needs to go in to a nursing home. Pari has no memory of her life with her first family and Abdullah doesn’t remember his own daughter, let alone his sister. When he goes in to a nursing home, Pari is finally free to get an education, remodel the house the way she wants it and she sets out for Paris and France, to finally meet the cousins she did not know she had.
Did I love the book? No. Did I enjoy the book? It was alright. Nothing to rave about but Hosseini is a good story-teller. The book could be set anywhere. It doesn’t breathe Afghanistan like his “A Thousand Suns” did, nor does it breathe Islam. Political events are not really mentioned that much, nor the wars and the different occupying forces. It is all about relationships really.