A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”


4/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read April 7, 2021 to April 13, 2021.

I adored The Kite Runner so I was excited that this novel was picked for one of my book club reads. Hosseini has a magical way with words and characters that can draw in any reader. This novel is also a relevant and timely read with the resurgence of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

A Thousand Splendid Suns depict the intertwining of two women in war-torn Afghanistan in the 1990s. After her mother kills herself, Mariam, who is still a teenager, is wed to Rasheed, a conservative man that is old enough to be her father. Every decision, dream, and hope Mariam had for her life is robbed from her and she resigns herself to the same misery her mother endured. Unable to give her husband a child, Rasheed’s affections turn into violence.

Laila came from a family that supported her education and individuality, though Laila’s mother was rarely present as she was never able to come to terms with the death of her brother. Laila’s father, however, was there for her and wanted the best for her. Young and in love with her closest friend, Tariq, the support Laila has from her loved ones isn’t enough to stop the war from finding them. When war comes to her doorstep and her loved ones are wiped out, Laila finds herself alone, pregnant, and unwed. Wanting to protect her unborn child she agrees to become Rasheed’s second wife. The dynamic between the Mariam and Laila is strained to start with but during one of Rasheed’s violent outbursts on Mariam, Laila tries to protect her. Eventually, the two form a bond of friendship that makes their married lives bearable. However, war is still all around them and Laila refuses to live her life by the confines of Rasheed.

Hosseini’s ability to create realistic, dynamic, and believable female characters is extraordinary. He depicts the impact of the Taliban regime on women and the suffering that so many of them endured and are still enduring in a remarkable way. The suffering that Mariam and Laila endure is so visceral moving and moving but the bond of love and sacrifice that they share in the end is intensely endearing. Hosseini’s writing is enthralling and beautifully composed and despite its heart retching content, is a novel that I did not want to put down. I love when I beautifully written book is both a stunning piece of literature but also an intensely important book that reflects and brings attention to real-world issues.

With the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, this book is a must-read for everyone though it may be triggering to anyone who has suffered domestic abuse or war-related PTSD.

The Mermaid of Jeju by Sumi Hahn

“The half moon disappeared behind a cloud, casting the scene into darkness. The silence between the boy and girl expanded. It filled with memories of promises made, words that the world had broken.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from March 25, 2021 to March 31, 2021.

I’ve always been fascinated by the women on Jeju Island that, for generations, have been deep-sea diving to feed their families and community. This amazing group of divers are known as haenyeo.

“The ocean sucked each diver down greedily. But the women were prepared for battle. They swiped their knives at the fingers of the sea grass that clutched at them. They used picks to pry away shells clinging to underwater rocks. They worked the waters, humming the chants of their forebearing mothers, who had explored the deep before them.”

Set in the mid-1940s, Korea is undergoing massive change at the end of WWII with the forced withdrawal of Japanese that have occupied Korea for decades. Junja is a young woman who has recently joined the ranks of haenyeo after surviving the rite of passage from a treacherous dive. Junja, who has never left her village, convinces her mother that she is old enough and responsible enough to take the annual delivery to the mountains. During this trip, she meets a young boy named Suwol who ends up rescuing her from a dangerous situation on the road. Shook by the encounter on the road, she is equally as smitten with Suwol. Unfortunately, the quiet village where Junja lives is not immune to the political changes affecting her country with the massive upheaval left with the withdrawal of the Japanese. Nationalists now contend with Communists and the US troops have taken the place of the Japanese. When Junja returns home, she finds her mother dead. It was claimed that she drowned and was battered at sea but the real story of her death is much more harrowing. Junja is devastated. As she drowns in her grief, her siblings are sent away to live with their estranged father while she remains at home with her grandmother. Junja’s world will never be the same and she must make a choice and learn to get through the storm of changes. 

This book started strongly and captivated me with its gorgeous writing and heartbreaking outcomes. The story spans over a few decades, as it begins with where Junja ends up later in life and how her story comes full circle in the end. The rich depictions of the haenyeo and their life in this small sea village are beautiful and visceral while the plot also highlights important parts of Korean heritage and history. 

“Here is a secret: Long long time ago, when I was a girl, I was a mermaid, too.” 

The last half of the book felt less cohesive than the first causing my interest to wane near the end of the novel. It’s still a beautiful story with great characters that paint a picture of a mythical, turbulent and resilient Korea. Historical-fiction lovers will enjoy Junja’s story as well as anyone interested in post-war history or coming of age stories.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

“So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 285 pages.
Read from February 14, 2021 to February 20, 2021.

We all know just how hard nurses, doctors and, frontline staff work in hospitals but unless you work within the industry it’s difficult to fathom the intensity and challenges that come with the industry. Enter Adam Kay…

Adam Kay was once a junior doctor working for the NHS in the UK. During his residency and beyond, he kept a diary to maintain his sanity in which he detailed the nuances and extremes of working as a doctor. From the long working hours, lack of sleep and social life, to the nitty-gritty details of the labour ward, the lack of support from the government, and occasionally very obtrusive patients, Adam Kay spares his readers nothing.

“I’m as big a fan of recycling as the next man, but if you turn a used condom inside out and put it back on for round two, it’s probably not going to be that effective.”

However, after a traumatic experience nearing his final years before becoming a full-fledged doctor, Adam Kay stepped away from the profession for good. Thankfully, Adam is a decent writer with a sense of humour and has been able to make quite the career detailing his time as a doctor. I did wonder how he managed to get away publishing all of these details without getting sued but it wasn’t without ruffling a few feathers as Adam comes across as highly critical of the NHS system and doesn’t always paint others within the industry in a nice light. With his unique and very British sense of humour, Adam points out some of the most serious flaws within the NHS system, issues that also plague Canada’s healthcare, such as long wait times, long working hours with no pay raises for employees etc. Yet Adam’s story subtly rubbed me the wrong way and it was hard to put my finger on why. There was a tone of arrogance and cynicism with the way Adam approached this book, that while I enjoyed aspects of this book, and even laughed at certain situations, all I could think was that I was glad that this man wasn’t a doctor anymore. When I discussed this book with friends, most of them did not share the sentiments as me and enjoyed the book and its contents thoroughly and welcomed its honest and critical approach to medicine and the NHS. Perhaps Adam’s British humour missed its mark with me (despite me having married a Brit)?

Does this book shed light on the day-to-day life of medical workers and the issues faced under the NHS? Yes, absolutely and for that reason, it is worth reading. It is also highly entertaining and funny at times but it does make you wonder if ethically, this book and the approach that was taken, was the right thing to do.