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.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 508 pages.
Read from January 10, 2021 to January 18, 2021.

This book has been on my TBR list for years and while it was supposed to be a selection for the book club I’m in it was changed due to it being a bit too long for a monthly selection. I decided that I would still take the opportunity to read it as it had been on my list for so long.

My Name is Red is a unique piece that manages to interweave a murder-mystery plot with a love story, that takes place in a historical setting, that also pays tribute to the creation and development of Ottoman art and culture in the shadow of the West and influence. The result? A finely crafted piece of literature. The story revolves around a group of miniaturists, one of whom is murdered. One of the three remaining artists is responsible but you won’t find out who until the end. Miniaturists were artists that would work together to paint manuscripts and within the Ottoman empire, these works were often a collaboration with a head artist coming up with the plan and outline and passing off the remaining work to apprentices. These manuscripts, despite their beauty, were rarely signed by their creators which, differs greatly from the Western traditions of art. This is one of the main points of conflict in the book as some of the artists are under coming under this new Western influence. As the murder mystery unfolds, a love story also takes hold that counterbalances some of the violence in the story as well as the more factual artistic and historical references. Pamuk’s writing style and unique narrative approach are elegant, poetic, and complete with wonderful and memorable quotes that leave a lasting mark.

“Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.”

My Name is Red is an outstanding piece of literature that brings awareness to the culture and art of the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. However, if this is not an area you’re familiar with, it can make the book harder to appreciate or understand. Don’t let that stop you from reading this book though as it is a meticulously written novel that has a beautiful read with an immensely captivating story. Books like this one, help to turn attention to places that produced phenomenal art that was generally overlooked within the Western canon.

“In actuality, we don’t look for smiles in pictures of bliss, but rather, for the happiness in life itself. Painters know this, but this is preciously what they cannot depict. That’s why they substitute the joy of seeing for the joy of life.”

My three-star rating has to do more with my own reading experience as I wish I had done a little bit of prior research just before picking up this book. I would recommend these steps for maximum enjoyment before reading this novel. Knowing what a miniaturist is a good place to start as well as getting a visual for what types of works these artists produced and how they were used and read. Thankfully, Wikipedia has a decent summary that won’t eat too much of your time. A highly recommended read for historical fiction lovers and anyone with an art appreciation.

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