Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns: 11/12/09

One thousand splendid susnOne member provided halvah and tea for the group this evening, two foods that Laila and Mariam enjoyed in the book.

“Really enjoyed the book. A real page turner….the bombings and the carnage…the burquas.”

“I liked this more than The Kite Runner. It seemed more real.”

One of the group members had heard the author speak in Cambridge. He shared some of the author’s observations with us:

“When the Soviets pulled out ….(it was the) darkest time in Afghanistan’s history because the Taliban came in…..The Qu’oran is actually a beautiful book. The Taliban has perpetrated a violent attitude towards women.”

One member said that the book “seemed empty outside of the events that took place.” Rasheed is a “monster”. Jalil is a “wimp”. Lila’s parents are “ineffectual”.

One person said that they felt “cheated” when Tariq came back and then got over it in the end.

Someone said that the city of Kabul is actually a character in this book.

“I enjoyed the book. It was very sad. I was reading at 2AM. I couldn’t put it down.”

A reader “liked this better than the Kite Runner…. couldn’t believe Rasheed at first. Mariam doesn’t like Laila at first. Jalil acknowledged Mariam to a degree. He had a little bit of sensitivity.”

“I read this right through. Couldn’t put it down. The beauty that happened inside…when they had their tea together. Liked more than The Kite Runner.”

One person commented that they had to put it down during the scene when Rasheed made Mariam chew the rocks. The thing is, she observed, “you can’t go a day without reading about a woman with acid thrown in her face.” This was a “fine and disturbing book”.

People were stunned by the fact that there was no anesthesia for Laila when she was having the baby.

An astute member points out that there were a few “interesting moments when Rasheed was kind. He never got over losing the first child. If you believe what the neighbors say, he was the cause of the death. Even with Zalmai he’s very indulgent and interesting. There’s no ethic for him to be humane.”

“When the Communists came it wasn’t even better”…this person liked the book because it’s about adults and not kids. They also liked Reading Lolita In Tehran. This reader accumulated a vocabulary of Farsi and Pashtu and listened to a biography of Mohammed trying to figure out where the subjugation of women comes from.

One reader liked it less. She felt that is was limited “the plot felt inevitable…like a tidal wave”. She felt that the first half dragged but that the second half was interesting. She noted that it seems like  much of the Muslim world is still caught in the seventh century.

Interestingly, a few people (mostly men) found the plot predictable, the characters wooden. A majority of the group loved the book. None of the women felt that it was a waste of time. Most of the women felt drawn in by the characters.

The facilitator was very taken in by the plight of Laila’s mother who took to her bed while her sons were at war and after their deaths. Others felt annoyed that she couldn’t be more present for her daughter. There, too, one wondered, was there a preference for males over females even on the part of a mother?

The facilitator also was struck by how Mariam saw the picture of Rasheed’s former wife and how she looked like she didn’t want to be where she was. This was very poignant.

Two more books recommended by readers:  Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, and Places in Between by Rory Stewart.  The author’s web site,, also makes for very interesting reading.


Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex: 10/8/09


Readers were either engrossed or put off by the historical beginning section of this novel, but most ultimately found it to be a beautifully written and absorbing exploration of identity.    Eugenides writes of an unusual condition that could easily be made to appear freakish.  However, he writes in such a way that the reader is able to identify with the ordinariness of this character. The humor and tragedy woven throughout are true to life, as are the stories of being different, keeping secrets, and personal (and urban) transformation.  -KT

Stewart O’Nan, Last Night at the Lobster: 9/10/09

Last Night at the LobsterI’ve lost my notes from this discussion, so all I can say is that this small poem of a book really touched me, although it was not a favorite of the group as a whole.  During our discussion, we were inspired to share stories of our experiences as waiters and workers in the restaurant business.  In this reader’s opinion, Last Night at the Lobster is a beautifully detailed moment in time about a man who finds it much easier to act with integrity and honor at work than he does in his personal life.   -KT

John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath: 8/13/09

The Grapes of Wrath

The reactions to this book were quite varied. Some readers were profoundly moved by the story of sacrifice, desperation, and a world turned upside down; others were put off by the heavy-handed political message or the “biblical” tone.  For those who had been required to read it in school years ago, most commented that this later reading made a much bigger impression.  One reader said she thought every current member of Congress should  be required to read this book for its powerful messages about the environment, economic choices and the impact of hardship on families.  Personally, I enjoy Steinbeck’s writing skill, from the dialect to the humor, the scenic sweep to the human detail.  -KT