Hosseini’s second novel focuses on the lives of girls and women in Afghanistan and skillfully weaves recent historical events into the tragic lives of two women. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man who is embarrassed by her existence. When her mother commits suicide, Mariam is forcibly married to a much older man, who takes her to live in the far off city of Kabul. Mariam’s husband Rasheed treats her with a contempt which quickly devolves into physical and mental abuse. When she miscarries, the abuse escalates and Mariam endures years of drudgery. Laila is the other main character. She is orphaned in a rocket attack hours before her family intend to flee to Pakistan. When Laila learns that her boyfriend Tariq has also been killed, she reluctantly agrees to become Rasheed’s second wife in order to legitimize her pregnancy. The storey focuses on the relationship between the two women which evolves from rivalry to fierce loyalty.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Although we found “The Kite Runner” a powerful book, many of us were reluctant to pick up another novel by Hosseini and discover what further horrors fill the lives of mothers and daughters in Afghanistan. Despite our fears (which were realized), this was an fascinating glimpse into the daily routines and lives of women in Kabul -under the warlords, under the Taliban and during the American occupation – which we know only through accounts of war and terrorism. Mariam and Laila are ordinary people, living courageously in circumstances we can only imagine. Their limited choices are clear and their sacrifices understandable. We can only wish that the happy ending Hosseini provides in 2007 would exist for the women of Afghanistan in 2009.