Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

If you check my Ratings Key for 4-star books here is what you find:

  • Must read
  • Inspiring
  • Classic
  • Want to read again
  • I learned profound lessons
  • Just beautiful
  • I cried

A Thousand Splendid Suns checks all these boxes.

In addition, reading it now is extremely timely, given the recent departure of the United States from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021.

We hear the story from the perspective of two young women, girls at first, in alternating chapters.

Mariam was born in 1959 in Herat in western Afghanistan, the cradle of Persian culture. She is an illegitimate child of one of the richest men in the city, Jalil. He has three wives and nine legitimate children among them. They all live in one large mansion as a happy family. Mariam and her mother, however, live in a hovel he had built for them a couple of miles out of town, up a steep hill, away from the city, and away from his “respectable” life. But he apparently loves Mariam enough to come and visit her once a week and spend quality time with her. She grows up into her teenage years loving and adoring her father, not knowing any better that life could be different. One day she walks to the city without permission, arrives at her father’s house and quickly finds that there is indeed a difference between her and her other siblings. Within just a few days, at the age of fifteen, she is married off to a middle-aged man in Kabul, Rasheed. Despite per protests, Rasheed takes her with him and her life changes drastically. Rasheed is a brute of a man who thinks nothing of beating a wife with a belt until she bleeds.

A few houses down the street from Mariam and Rasheed lives a young family with a little girl named Laila. There are two older brothers. Laila’s father is somewhat of an outsider in the neighborhood. He is an intellectual, a teacher, who loves his books and cherishes education, even for a girl. Laila grows up in a loving, albeit poor, family. Her best friend is Tariq, a neighborhood boy who is two years older than she. Laila’s older brothers go to war against the Soviets and eventually both die for the cause. Laila’s mother is so shaken, she becomes morose and sickly. Eventually, a stray rocket hits their house. Laila is the only survivor but severely wounded.

Rasheed and Mariam rescue her, and promptly, Rasheed decides to take Laila as a second wife, against Mariam’s will. This stroke of fate puts the two women, a generation apart, into the same household under the boot of a severely abusive man.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is about the devastating abuse and systemic destruction of women in a regime and society where a few theocrats have absolute power over the lives of millions of people. It is also about the history of Afghanistan, starting in the 1960s and through about 2007. It describes the years before the Soviets invaded the country in the 1980s, their eventual defeat, the rise of the Mujahideens, their devolution into bands of warlords bent on destroying their own country for personal gain and power, and finally the rise of the Taliban, pre-Osama bin Laden. It illustrates in vivid detail what the Taliban, basically a bunch of uneducated goat-herders and religious fanatics, did to their own country and most importantly, to 50% of their population – all the women. We witness the hardships of women under that regime, and then, as we all know, the post 9/11-years as the American’s supposedly liberated the Afghans from the Taliban. Things started getting better again in the country and people’s lives started to improve.

That is where A Thousand Splendid Suns ends. There was hope. There was light again for girls and women.

The bitter, brutal irony is that I read this book not in 2007 when it came out, but fifteen years later, now in 2023. I know that the Americans left the country under very adverse conditions for the Afghan people. I know that the country fell into the hands of the Taliban again within days of America leaving, and I know, from reading A Thousand Splendid Suns what happened to the Afghans – again.

It’s easy for us to make decisions about how we feel about Afghanistan being a world away. Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns is crushing, challenging, and most of all thought-provoking. We didn’t do anything new to Afghanistan. We were just another invader in the revolving door of systematic subjugation of a nation and its people, a nation that could not be defeated by two superpowers in two generations, but a nation that also hasn’t figured out how to live and prosper on its own.

The Afghan people are not to be blamed. The sick interpretation of Islam and the fact that an entire nation is willing to subjugate itself to its dogma is at the root of the problem. And that is exactly why there should never be any connection between politics, government and church, any church at all.

Reading this book, I realize that through my entire lifetime on this planet, the people of Afghanistan have suffered, badly suffered, and there is no end in sight even now.

Worldwide Waste of Food

I have written several posts in 2015 with the subject of waste of food. Here are links to both of them:

Worldwide Waste of Food

Child Hunger and Banquet Food Waste

Today I received an email from a reader who works on a university project about world hunger, who asked me to attach this information to my posts.

You can find that information at this link: World Hunger Facts and Statistics as well as at the bottom of the two other posts.

It has been eight years since I wrote these posts, and things have not gotten better. Due to impending climate disaster, there will be millions of climate refugees searching for “higher ground” and there will be crop failures all around the world which will exacerbate hunger. I welcome the research, the activism and the initiative of the new generation and university projects like the one my reader quoted. She took the time to search old posts and contact the writers – that takes work, and I applaud it.

Thank you, Debbie.

Living in a Safe Country

Today I went sailing in San Diego Bay with family and friends. In the car on the way home, the conversation went to “the good life” we’ve all been blessed with. How our lives are safe, we have intact homes, enough income to eat every day, and we don’t have to worry about anything seriously threatening our safety and well-being.

That made me think.

Say that a coup happened in the United States right now. A strongman took over our government by undermining its institutions, and by taking command of law enforcement and the military. It’s been done before in many other countries. If that happened, it would not take long before our way of life would collapse. Gangs would be marauding in our suburban neighborhoods, raping women, taking our food and valuables at will and threatening our lives.

Say you have a couple of small children, a six-month old baby and a three-year-old toddler. To keep them safe and give them a chance at a normal life, you pack up your SUV with the kids and a few belongings and you head up to Canada, where the government is still intact.

However, as you cross the border, you get arrested by the Canadian border authorities. They take away your baby and your toddler – who knows where to?  – and without obtaining any information about how to find you and reconnect you with your children, they send you back – without your children.

That is what our American government did in 2017, when they sent political refugees back to Honduras, Nicaragua and all the other countries people were fleeing – only after they took away their children with no plan to ever give them back.

Do we really live in a safe country?

A Dark Day for Freedom and Individual Rights in the U.S.

With the Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade, things are changing in this country, for the worse, for the much worse.

But then again, we have observed this circus happening since 2016, where somehow we have let “conservative” values roll over our freedom. What did we expect? We have seeded the Supreme Court for years now just to make this happen, and it started with McConnell’s blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland. It’s ironic that these same “conservatives” are the ones who proclaim their freedom was taken away by an election that didn’t go their way.

The country is heading down a path of darkness forced by religious zealots. I have no problem with Christians being Christians, and Muslim’s being Muslims, as long as they stay out of interfering with my life and my freedom, all the rest of us who don’t buy into their delusions.

Here they have crossed this border. They are interfering, and that’s deeply disturbing.

What’s next?

How about we make all our women wear burkas because that makes us men feel better about the powers we have?

I hear their God hates genitals. Maybe we can bring in genital mutilation – of course for women only. And for witches.

Do you think I am angry?

You bet I am.


Overdramatization of a Riot?

The clip on the left is from Time Magazine, April 25, 2022, page 6.

U. S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Green stated that “The American people are fed up with this over-dramatization of a riot.”

I can’t speak for the American people, other than I am one of them – ex pluribus unum.

Say I took a crow bar, or a sledge hammer, or perhaps even a weapon, and I went down to my local municipal government building – and I am not even talking about the U.S. Capitol or any State Capitol. Then when I got to the locked door, I’d just beat it in. If there were security guards or police, I’d pepper spray them or beat them with the crow bar.

If I did that, chances are that I’d not survive, because I’d be shot down in hail of bullets. If I did survive, I’d rot in jail for the better part of a year until I got my trial, and then I’d lose and – at my age – spend the rest of my life in prison.

Now if I did this same thing along with the 2,000 people who have entered the Capitol on January 6, the whole thing would go away because it’s an overdramatization of a riot?

I am not buying it.

I am in favor of every one of those people that committed violence entering the Capitol that day to do their time.

Those in our government, particularly those elected officials, in the legislative and executive branch who incited this should also be held accountable.

German Foreign Minister Speaks at United Nations

A powerful speech at the United Nations by Germany’s Foreign Minister (the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State).

VIDEO: Baerbock auf Englisch zu Ukraine: “Es geht um Mia und die Zukunft unserer Kinder” | Euronews

A Day in the Life of Refugees

It was winter. The mother was 35 years old. Her husband was gone, fighting in the war. She had five children. The oldest daughter was 9, her oldest son was 8, and there were three younger daughters. With them was her mother, the children’s grandmother. They packed up a few suitcases with the most important belongings and they left their home. They locked the door. They headed west. They never saw their house, their home, again.

The year was 1945.

The town was Breslau, then Germany, now inside Poland.

The mother was my paternal grandmother. She would die in childbirth two years later.

The 8-year-old boy was my father.

The invading force they were fleeing from, closing in on Germany, were the Russians.

My father is still alive today. He knows what these thousands of fleeing Ukrainian families feel like today.

Her Car is Parked in our Lot

Here is a picture of U.S. Marine Nicole Gee In Kabul just days before she was killed in the suicide attack.

Image and Article at Redditt [click image for article original article]
Her good friend and a fellow Marine wrote this for her:

Her car is parked in our lot.

It’s so mundane. Simple. But it’s there.

My very best friend, my person, my sister forever. My other half. We were boots together, Corporals together, & then Sergeants together. Roommates for over 3 years now, from the barracks at MOS school to our house here. We’ve been attached at the hip from the beginning. I can’t quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality & think about how I’m never going to see her again. How her last breath was taken doing what she loved—helping people—at HKIA in Afghanistan. Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.

Our generation of Marines has been listening to the Iraq/Afghan vets tell their war stories for years. It’s easy to feel distant when you’re listening to those conversations, it’s easy for that war & those stories to sound like something so distant—something that you feel like you’re never going to experience since you joined the Marine Corps during peacetime. The stories are powerful and moving. Motivating. You know it can happen. And you train to be ready if/when it does. You’re ready. Gung-Ho. You raise your hand for all of the deployments, you put in the work. But it’s hard to truly relate to those stories when most of the deployments nowadays involve a trip to Oki or a boring 6 months on ship.

Then bad people do bad things, and all of a sudden, the peaceful float you were on turns into you going to Afghanistan & for some, never coming back. It turns into your friends never coming home.

Her car is parked in our lot.

For a month now, it’s been parked in our little lot on Camp Lejeune at the Comm Shop where I work. I used it while my car was getting fixed & I just haven’t gotten around to bringing it back to our house. I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home. So many Marines have walked past it, most of them the newer generations of Marines, our generation of Marines. The same Marines who often feel so distant from the war stories their bosses tell them about. I’m sure they thought nothing of it—just a car parked in a parking spot. Some of them knew her. Some of them didn’t. But they all saw her car. They all walked past it. The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak. It’s not so distant anymore.

Her car is still there, & she’s gone forever.

I love the first photo. We climbed to the top of sugar cookie in 29 one Saturday morning a few years ago to pay our respects. I snapped the picture on my camera. I never would’ve thought her name would be on a cross like those one day. There’s no way to adequately prepare for that feeling. No PowerPoint training, no class from the chaps, nothing. Nothing can prepare you.

My best friend. 23 years old. Gone. I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved. She was a Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person.

Til Valhalla, Sergeant Nicole Gee. I can’t wait to see you & your Momma up there. I love you forever & ever.

Dr. Seuss and High-Grade Niggers

The political right in the United States is taking issue right now about Dr. Seuss’ estate pulling back six of his books. Mind you, nobody was forcing them to do this. They did this after their own initiative.

[click to enlarge]
So check out this drawing. If you don’t see the problem with this picture, and you don’t think it’s objectionable in 2021, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

If we have people in the United States Congress who have issues with Dr. Seuss pulling back this book, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

The Capitol Riot Eye Gouger

[This post was updated March 8, 2021 with current information]

The FBI is looking for the Capitol Rioters. Here is an article in HuffPost with many pictures of wanted criminals.

The man in the picture above gained notoriety as the eye gouger. Here is a picture of him trying to gouge out the eye of a capitol police officer. In the first version of this post, I had stated that this officer only had one eye left for the rest of his life. A helpful reader has since corrected me and stated that the gouger was unsuccessful, and the officer has since fully recovered. 

I am a martial artist. In my training, many years ago, I have learned a lot of gruesome techniques of self defense, and I believe if I were trapped in a threatening situation I would have a lot of “weapons” at my disposal that could do serious damage to an attacker. In my entire life, I have never been in a situation where I needed to draw on those skills. That’s because I always make choices that do not put me in such a situation in the first place. I have to say, however, that it has helped me greatly in my confidence walking down the street in a sketchy area from time to time.

One move at anyone’s disposal is eye gouging. You can do it with one hand and one eye, like in the picture shown, or you could use a double-eye technique. I am not going to go into the details, but it’s definitely an effective self defense for anyone being attacked by someone of superior strength in very close quarters. One example would be a woman being raped.

Having this knowledge and training, and knowing such techniques is one thing. It’s another thing to use them frivolously. As a martial artist, the most important “skill” you learn is to respect others and never, ever purposely hurt them or attack them. As a matter of fact, even when using techniques for self defense, a martial artist will think about the appropriate response before counter-attacking. For instance, say you are a female, and your brother-in-law is drunk and tries to sexually assault you. You have choice to make. Do you want to kill him? Do you want to maim him for life? Do you want him to be hospitalized for a while? Or do you just want him off you so you can run away, and he can sleep off his drunken stupor and you can deal with the situation the next day without violence? These are four very distinct choices you have to make before you decide to counter-attack in a given situation.

I cannot imagine in what universe the man shown in the picture above lives, where he thought he had the right to attack a police officer and try to gouge out his eye, thus maiming him permanently, just because the police officer did his job and tried to interfere with the man’s attempt to invade the Capitol. The Gouger did this not because he was threatened or attacked.

He planned a trip to Washington. He went on an airplane. He traveled to a hotel and stayed the night. Then, on January 6, 2021, he went to a political rally and proceeded to do this deed. What else did he do that day? Who else did he severely injure before the day was over? He did this not protect his family, or himself, against some aggression.

He did it because he didn’t agree with the politics of the opposing political party.

In what world, in a civilized country, is it ok to gouge out another person’s eye because of political beliefs or ideological or religious convictions? The only world I can imagine is the same world where it was acceptable fly an airliner into a building and kill 3,000 innocent people. It’s terrorism, pure and simple.

The Gouger got away. He went back to the airport, flew home, and now sits at the kitchen table with his wife and children.

The FBI is looking for him. I hope somebody recognizes him and reports him. Somebody works with this man. He is somebody’s neighbor, or brother, or uncle. I hope he gets his day in court, where he can explain how it came about that he felt he had the right to try to gouge out the eye of a police officer at a “political rally.”

I wonder how he will explain this to his children.

Prison for Critics of Thai Monarchy

Source: Time Magazine, Feb 1, 2021, page 11.

I have been openly critical of the Thai monarchy. Heck, am critical of all monarchies, and I am fortunate to live in a country that does not support a monarchy.

However, I have previously posted about the Thai monarchy, and it was not flattering, here and here.

Given that people who don’t agree with the monarchy get 43-year prison sentences, I had better be careful and not accidentally travel to Thailand and get arrested. I am not sure I want to see the inside of a Thai prison.

It makes me wonder about the solidity of the values of the monarchies and the characters of the monarchs themselves when they can’t handle public criticism and are so afraid of it that they have to look dissenters up for life.

It does not buy my respect.

This makes me doubly grateful that I live in the United States, a democratic republic, where opposition to the leadership is settled by going to the ballot box, a system recently tested to its foundations, and a system worthy of protecting.

My freedom to write this without getting prosecuted depends on it.

The Rioters Can’t Be Very Bright

I am really having trouble understanding what went on inside the heads of Capitol rioters, like the woman on this mugshot: Riley June Williams. She is 22 years old and it would seem she has her entire life ahead of her.

Instead, she enters an extremely prominent government building as part of a mob on January 6, 2021, and steals a laptop from a desk inside the office of the Speaker of the House. Mind you, this is not going into some post office and stealing a cash register. The Speaker is second in line of succession to the office of President of the United States.

Then she goes on multiple videos of others and of her own making and brags about stealing property of a U.S. government official with the intention of selling it to a hostile foreign power.

Jonathan Pollard spent 28 years in prison for being convicted for activities similar to that. Now, out under house arrest with her mother, she is apparently still working on contacting others and encouraging them to destroy evidence.

How stupid can these people be?

Russia Today

Navalny, after surviving an assassination attempt, and recovering in Germany, the Russian government (Putin) portrayed him as a traitor.

Then Navalny did the incredible. Rather than staying safe and protected in the west, he went back to Russia and promptly got arrested.

Now Putin has a problem. No traitor would do that. Only a sincere man would put his life on the line for his country. That’s exactly what Navalny did. The Russian people have had enough. They have now been oppressed by their own government in many forms for more than 100 years.

I have never been to Russia, and I am not likely to ever go there as long as it’s a corrupt oligarchy with a murderer at its head.

But I admire the Russian people, their spirit, their intelligence, and their history. I always wanted to learn some Russian. Perhaps I can make the trip one day when Navalny is its president?

Here is more information about Navalny -> Wikipedia.

Some Things You Can’t Unsee

Watching the inauguration ceremonies on Wednesday, we kept seeing dignitaries come out the gate of the Capitol, walking down the stairs and to their seats. I have watched these ceremonies all my life.

Here is President Biden getting sworn in, and behind him you can see the door they came through.

Here is a view of the riots at the Capitol exactly two weeks before, showing, as far as I can tell, the same door.

This is where the mob dragged police officers out of the door and down the steps. They were beating them with flagpoles of the American flag.

These are the same people that complained when Kaepernick took a knee at a football game that he was dishonoring the American flag. Apparently there is nothing wrong with using a flag to beat up a police officer, but kneeling during the anthem is dishonoring the flag.

The desecration of the symbols of the oldest democracy in the world, and the very building from which it comes, is being called “patriotic” by this band of thugs. These are the people who say they want to make America great again, with Trump’s name right there.

Some pictures cannot be unseen.

I will always see this in front of me when I see the dignitaries exit this door of the Capitol in the future. It’s as burned into my memory as the twin towers in New York, smoking black into the blue morning sky of September 11, 2001.