BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

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Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Drama
First published: May 22nd 2007
Finished reading: February 27th 2013
Pages: 415

Rating 5

“And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.”

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After already having read The Kite Runner by the same author, I had especially high expectations when I got my hands on a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Being able to take peek inside the life of a person from a different culture fascinates me, especially when the culture is quite different from my own. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two Afghan women living their lives in the ever changing Afghanistan of the last thirty years. Through the eyes of Laila and Mariam we see the situation Afghanistan change from the Soviet invasion to the Taliban and post-Taliban period. It is a tale of two women born a generation apart, but brought together by fate, war and faith.

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Mariam, harami (unwanted child), was born and raised in banishment, and forced to move her hometown and marry a much older man, Rasheed, after her mother committed suicide. There she is unable to give birth to a child; the most important wish of her husband, who then starts treating her like a house slave. Laila, fifteen years younger and raised under much different circumstances, was left alone after a bomb destroys her home and kills her parents. She was living in the same street as Mariam, and she and her husband took Laila in to recover from the shock. Laila was deeply in love AND pregnant with her childhood friend Tariq, but cruel Rasheed forced her to marry him by telling her that Tariq had died while trying to escape the violence in the city. Since being pregnant as a single girl is a terrible sin in the eyes of the Afghanistan society, she decided to marry him and make him believe the child is his.

Rasheed is happy, until he finds out the kid is a girl. He goes from treating her like a princess to the same treatment Mariam is suffering from. When she finally gets pregnant and gives birth to a boy, things don’t change to much for the three women in his house. The situation in Afghanistan changes though, and things become really dangerous. They were forced to leave their daughter in a foster home… But when Tariq suddenly returns to the city looking for Laila, things change drastically and Mariam killed Rasheed while he was attacking Laila. Mariam decided to stay at their house and sacrifice herself so Laila and their children can flee the country. And that is when Tariq and Laila can finally start their life together…

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A Thousand Splendid Suns is a moving story about three decades of Afghan history, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love; all brought together by faith. It is beautifully written and a definite must read!

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BOOK REVIEW: The Abstinence Teacher – by Tom Perrotta

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Title: The Abstinence Teacher
Author: Tom Perrotta
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Religion
First published: October 16th 2007
Finished reading: February 21st 2013
Pages: 358

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“Abstinence is perfectly reasonable in theory,” Gregory said, “It just doesn’t work in practice. It’s like dieting. You can go a day or two, maybe even a week. But eventually that pizza just smells too good.”

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To be honest, I was completely underwhelmed by this book. I know I only started reading it because I didn’t have another book available at the time, but still… This was absolutely disappointing. The lack of imagination and the abuse of cliches made me almost throw my copy of The Abstinence Teacher against the wall. And trust me, I would have felt sorry for the wall. A sex education teacher versus religion, really? Very, very frustrating. The uninspiring and dull writing style wasn’t really helping either, and overall I’m actually surprised I didn’t end up DNFing this novel by Tom Perrotta. This author unfortunately will go to my do-not-read list… In short, this novel was even less than I expected when I started reading it and I would only recommend it to my enemy.

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Ruth Ramsey is a sex education teacher with liberal ideas about how to educate her kids. She believes that knowledge is power, but is then forced to change her approach to an abstinence-only program in which she has to go against all her beliefs. Tim Mason is a former member of various rock bands and addict who was saved by God. Tim now is an active member of The Tabernacle, an evangelical Christian church and he is also Ruth’s younger daughter’s soccer coach. This causes problems when he asks the girls to pray together after a game… Ruth has huge problems with The Tabernacle ever since they criticized her liberal ways of teaching and the school forced her into abstinence. Tim and Ruth mistrust each other, but since her daughter isn’t about to give up soccer and her older daughter actually wants to join the church, Ruth was left no choice and has to talk to Tim… With certain consequences.

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The struggle between Tim and Ruth is almost like a small ‘war’ where rather tacky opposites attract… And that is only one of the many cliches used in this novel. The Abstinence Teacher left me bored and above all frustrated wtih the hours wasted on reading it. I normally don’t enjoy to DNF a novel, but I wish I would have done it with this one. NOT recommended.