Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
The best books, like most forms of art, invoke a feeling in the reader. They challenge the reader to examine their emotions, thoughts and truths and these sentiments linger on in one’s being long after they have closed the last page. Or at least one seems to think they should.
A conversation one had recently was focused on the kind of books one reads and whether or not it was mandatory to finish a book once it had been started. The book that was subject of discussion was “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan born American author who also wrote the best-selling “The Kite Runner”.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” focuses on the lives of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila. Mariam is an illegitimate child who at the age of 15 is married off to man, Rasheed, 30 years her senior.
After failing to bear him a child Mariam is subjected to severe abuse by her husband who then marries a second wife Laila, a girl who lived in Kabul and lost her family in a bombing during the Afghan war. Mariam and Laila build a bond as they are both subjected to abuse under Rasheed’s roof. At some point they try to escape but are caught and, as punishment, Rasheed starves them.
Laila eventually has a son but the conditions under which they live do not change. Coupled with this is the fact that there is a war going on and the government power is repressive, subjugating women to oppressive laws. The book is quite an emotional rollercoaster as there seems to be no end to the suffering that these two women face. Despite finding courage and supporting each other the patriarchal society in which they live always deals them a crushing blow.
The novel does however have a turn and there is some redemption for the characters though in a bitter sweet sort of way. The conversation on this book ended with the other party stating that they had not finished reading the book because of how despondent it was. They added that they preferred books with happy endings rather than sad ones.
One immediately thought of other heart wrenching books that they had read. “A Child Called It” by Dave Pelzer is what can be considered an aching read. Pelzer’s is novel based on his life though the narrative has been disputed by members of his family. In the book he speaks of the abuse that he suffered at the hands of his mother between the ages of four and 12 years old when he was sent to foster care.
According to Pelzer, he was starved, forced to drink ammonia, stabbed in the stomach, had his arm burned on a gas stove, and forced to eat his own vomit. What is more troubling is to consider why a mother would treat their child in such a manner particularly when, as Pelzer wrote, his siblings were treated far better. Pelzer wrote two further books but one did not have the heart or the desire to pick them up after the harrowing read of the first.
Another that played on emotions is “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The novel speaks of the Biafran War through the experiences of people interconnected through family and friendship; twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, Odenigbo a professor and husband to Olanna, Richard, an English writer and Ugwu Odenigbo’s house boy. One considers this to be Adichie’s best work not just because of the human element to the telling of the war, although this account is fictional, but because of how one becomes vested in the situations the characters find themselves in and the outcomes.
A frustrating part of this book, which many readers have found, is the way in which it ends and Adichie has commented that she has received feedback from readers on the need for an alternative ending. People tend to read for various reasons and one suggests that among them should be the desire to be moved by literature and explore one’s thoughts and feelings through words.