This book follows the lives of two women, Maryam and Laila, in Afghanistan from the 1950s through the present. Maryam is the older of the two, whose mother never lets her forget that she is harami, born out of wedlock. She had been a maid in Maryam’s father house when she got pregnant and he chose not to marry her. He has three other wives, and many other children, but he makes a point to visit Maryam once a week. She idolizes her father completely. That is, until her mother dies when she is 15 and he marries Maryam off to a stranger in Kabul. Rasheed. He is abusive and just generally terrible. Laila, on the other hand is born in Kabul. Her father is a former school teacher and her mother, once quite vibrant, is perpetually in mourning for her two sons who have been fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan since Laila was a very small child. When her parents die, she is taken in by Maryam, now in her 30s. Rasheed then decides to marry the 14-year-old Laila. After some initial conflict between the two women, they eventually become friends and try their best to protect each other from Rasheed.
Hosseini not only tells the story of Laila and Maryam, he also tells the story of Afghanistan. Over the course of the book the country goes from a monarchy to Soviet rule to leadership under various warring factions to rule propped up by America and the West. I was so invested in these characters that I finished the book in just three days. I couldn’t put it down. Laila and Maryam go through a great deal of hardships, making it true what Maryam’s mother told her–that is a woman’s lot in life to endure. These women certainly endured quite a lot. Despite that, the story does not end on a down note. I would gladly recommend this book to anyone.
Review by Jessica A.