The well drawn characters of Baba and Hassan, and riveting, painful scenes move the novel along, but what was most compelling to me was the portrait of Afghanistan as it moved from pre-Russian invasion, through the invasion era, and finally to the Taliban period. I was terribly ignorant of much of this and was particularly struck by two things.
One was the ethnic antagonism between Pashtun and Hazara. I’m forever flabbergasted that such human hatred exists in the world, and forever surprised to find out about a new history of butchery. We’ve been hearing about the genocide in Darfur for awhile now, not to mention the Sunni/Shi’a mess in Iraq, and currently the same news echoes out of Kenya. I grew up loving maps, but I’m realizing again how false the lines of Nations, mostly drawn by the West, divide up the world. It’s not that simple.
The other thing that sticks with me is the violence, duplicity, and oppression of the Taliban. Granted, Hosseini is writing fiction, but I have to believe that the things he portrays are at least a partial reflection of actual Talibanic events. How any group could justify such events as being of God is absolutely unfathomable, except that it’s been done some many times throughout history it shouldn’t surprise anyone. God must get really tired of that.
While the long section about the narrator’s courtship was a tedious contrast to the rest of the novel, and the way that the circularity of events closes was almost too perfect to believe, Hosseini avoids an easy ending. I’m going to read A Thousand Splendid Suns soon.