I have recently finished reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini. As corny as this may sound, it was somewhat a life changing read.
Although I have never been particularly partial to sad books or movies I found myself compelled to read this novel to the end. It was highly recommended to me by my colleagues and was even suggested that it may bring me to tears but I thought perhaps this was mere exaggeration.
As I read the first couple of chapters I realised the story did in fact paint a bleak picture but as I had not yet connected deeply enough with the female protagonist I was somewhat unaffected. What followed however touched a nerve. I suddenly found the book a bit too close to home. Being of middle eastern descent and having seen first hand young women being married off to much older men, this part of the story made me highly uncomfortable. From this point onwards I prepared myself for what I knew was to come; abuse (both sexual and physical), control, submission and just the general atrocities that are sometimes faced by women forced into marriages. However, I was caught off-guard. The husband’s character was initially presented as kind, patient and understanding, which made the change in his character all the more distressing. By this point I had connected so deeply with the female lead that I started to find the book utterly frustrating. I could not deal with or fathom all the hardship she had faced and was continuing to face, and so I found myself feeling angry. However, this anger was misdirected. I thought I was angry at the author for writing a book that I found so infuriating when in actual fact it was that I was angry about the circumstances and injustices which had befallen the female protagonist. I found myself putting the book down after completing a chapter and feeling completely deflated and somewhat depressed. I found myself trying to downplay and disregard the story’s sadness as a sort of coping mechanism. I would instantly have to switch on the telly and watch something humorous and light hearted to take my mind off of what I had just read. I was trying to escape the book. Actually, I was trying to escape the reality presented in the book because I knew this injustices were actually occurring. I told my colleagues that I wasn’t sure I was really enjoying the book because it was simply ‘too sad’. What I hadn’t realised yet however, was just how much the book had in fact drawn me in and affected me.
The more I read, the more despairing the story become and I became so despondent for the characters I actually began thinking perhaps they’d be better just taking their own lives. Surely no one could withstand such torture and misery for that long. I lost all hope and the continuing heart-breaking events that took place within the story no longer surprised me. In fact, the instant a character felt even slightly happy or safe I immediately (and correctly) guessed the next horror that would befall them. The end of the book was somewhat uplifting and inspiring, however at this point, after everything that had happened, I found myself thinking it’s too little too late. Look at all the sacrifices that had to be made and what do you really have to show for it. And so I put down the novel thinking that it had been an overrated book. It was nothing more than a gloomy tale which left you feeling completely deflated and absolutely dejected.
Over the next few days however the story played heavily on my mind. As much as I would try to forget the atrocities that the characters endured, they would pop into my mind. What’s worse is that I knew throughout the book that although it was not a true story, it may as well have been because it told the story of true events; things that had occurred and were probably still occurring to women in that part of the world. This in itself angered me because I felt helpless. More so, I felt ashamed. I suddenly felt undeserving of all the luxuries in my life; of the ease and opportunities available to me. I felt humbled and grateful but also as though I had been selfish by acting so oblivious to it all. That’s how most people deal with it though isn’t it. They’ll watch the news and see the horrific events in other parts of the world and just as easily disregard them as soon as the segment is over with nothing more than a “oh isn’t it terrible” comment at work the next day. Perhaps they’ll take to social media and for a few days while the story is fresh and receiving a lot of media coverage, they’ll voice their opinions and outrage on these sites. The problem, however is that these events do not occur every once in a while. They are occurring every day. Right now in fact. And this is precisely why I felt frustrated. The story of Mariam and Leila was a wake-up call because there are thousands of Mariam’s and Leila’s out there and I realised I haven’t given them as much as a passing thought because it didn’t effect my day to day life. Now that is terrible.
So I would like to personally thank Mr Hosseini for this beautiful story that evoked in me more emotion than I have allowed myself to ever feel from a book. I would like to thank him for stirring in me a need to acknowledge and hopefully help all the Leila’s and Mariam’s out there. And I would finally like to thank him for bringing me back to life, back to reality and just generally waking me up. There is so much more to life and I feel like I haven’t been living up to my full potential but there are no excuses for not doing that, not for me anyway, not right now. So now, I shall begin. I shall live. I shall embrace every possible opportunity to do good, be better, learn more and most importantly, live more! I have been ‘coasting’ for far too long, occupying myself with the tedious and mundane and convincing myself that I’m too busy for other things but I realise now that there are much more important things I could and should be occupying my time with. Time is precious and if I’m going to spend it on anything it’s going to be on things that make a difference, not just to me but to others!