When I was working in Chennai for a brief four months, I used to stay in a hostel. Worst time of my life, trust me. Anyway, when a Bangalorean moves to Chennai and has bare minimum friends, any free day is a dud. Chennai is not a place that you can explore on foot. At least for me it wasn't easy. My weekends were usually restricted to visiting a book seller near my hostel. This was not a store, books were sold on the footpath here. While most of them were pirated copies, at times you did find very old originals. My eyes always found them. That's how I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri and her book 'Unaccustomed Earth'. I used to pick up a lot of books from here. A weekend meant exhausting two books and I needed new ones soon. During one such tryst to the book seller is when I picked up a book called 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', only because I loved the title. Who the author was, what was the book about, did not matter then.
The novel centers on two women, Mariam and Laila, how their lives become intertwined after a series of drastic events, and their subsequent friendship and support for each other in the backdrop of Kabul in the 20th and 21st century. I finished the fairly large book in two days letting it happily eat into my sleep time. I was so blown away by the story that I re-read it again after a week and felt the same emotions churn with me. Mariam's journey made my heart bleed and the writing only helped enhance the myriad emotions I was feeling. When Laila was introduced, I couldn't help but fall in love with her. Such a charming pretty young thing she was. Tariq is the perfect lover and their relationship is very well shown. Then tragedy strikes. Laila and Mariam meet and get along amidst the weirdest of circumstances. Their relationship soon evolves from being strangers to almost mother-daughter. Such a beautifully woven tale this.
The writing is so brilliant that you can imagine the Kabul streets in your head and almost see the smoke coming out of the chimneys. The story is set against a war backdrop, yes, but it never waivers from the two women. Hosseini is a master of relationships and shows the relationship between Mariam and Laila in its rawest and purest form. This book makes you cry, smile and then cry more again. But it is totally worth it. The story is purely about relationships and love. Not necessarily the one you share with a lover.
Almost instantly, I picked up 'The Kite Runner'. This one centers on two boys and their friendship. Once rich and the other, expectantly poor. Hassan is the son of Amir's father's servant and is the kite-runner for Amir. "For you, a thousand times over", the famous line of this novel is told by Hassan to Amir and then later by Amir to someone else. The story traces the different journeys of these two boys and witnesses them becoming men. Again, the story revolves only around relationships and is set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and California. There is a revelation hidden in the story, and when you get there you realize how perfect the truth is. Which in turns gives the best ever ending to the book. This book probably has one of the best endings I've ever read.
While the stories are purely based on relationships making it a winner already, the true delight is the writing. Simple, clean and brief. The story doesn't drag for a bit and the characters are always limited. I have 'And The Mountains Echoed' safely on my book shelf but I am yet to get to it. I know that is the story of a brother and his sister and I cannot wait to read it. Nobody portrays relationships the way Hosseini does. There is no sugar coating or pretense. It is like how it should be. Honest, open and uncertain. That's the brilliance each of his books come with.
Have you read his books? Which of it is your favorite?