An unintended benefit of this global reading project is that it gave me the nudge I needed to read a book I should have read long before now. I'm probably the only person on the planet who had never read anything by Khaled Hosseini, and after finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I know my world view was poorer for the omission. I had avoided Hosseini's books because I was afraid they would be crushingly sad, and this book certainly had those moments. But it also painted a very rich picture of life in Afghanistan, with a special focus on the lives of women.
Mariam and Laila come from different cities and different backgrounds, but their lives intersect in ways both tragic and tender. While both women enjoy relatively happy interludes at different points in their lives, changes in both their personal circumstances and the political climate of their country serve to underscore an admonition Mariam received as a young girl from her mother, Nana: "There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school... Only one skill. And it's this: tahamul. Endure."
There is much for both Mariam and Laila to endure in an Afghanistan undergoing constant political turmoil. As a taxi driver remarked during Laila's day trip with her father and her friend to see the Bamiyan Buddhas, "And that, my young friends, is the story of our country, one invader after another... Macedonians. Sassanians. Arabs. Mongols. Now the Soviets. But we're like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing." I found that moment to be particularly poignant, knowing the Taliban would take power after the Soviet era and blow up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas that had inspired Laila with awe that day.
Hosseini is a spellbinding storyteller, and he tempers agony with a sense of hopefulness. Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns was a remarkable way to begin my literary trip around the world.
The food of Afghanistan offers many wonderful options for vegans, although the dish I decided to make is one that's often made with meat. I chose it because it represented a joyful day in Laila's life, a day when her mother was in uncharacteristically good spirits and decided to throw a party for the neighbors: "With unsettling energy, Mammy set about cooking: aush soup with kidney beans and dried dill...".
I found a recipe for a vegetarian aush soup on the Washington Post's website. It's a spicy garbanzo bean, vegetable, and noodle soup, perfect to welcome the start of autumn. The only change needed to make the soup vegan was to use non-dairy yogurt in place of the whole-milk yogurt the recipe calls for. Here is the link to the recipe: https://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/recipes/aush-vegetable-soup/14366/.
It was easy to decide which nonprofit organization should receive my donation for Afghanistan. Khaled Hosseini, the author of A Thousand Splendid Suns, has created his own foundation to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. According to the website of the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, the "Foundation works with the United Nations refugee organization (UNHCR) to build shelters for refugee families. It also provides economic opportunities, education, and healthcare for women and children of Afghanistan." I hope my donation will help other women like Mariam and Laila.
NEXT STOP: ALBANIA