I love to read, and have read thousands of books in my lifetime. But there are two books that come to mind, that have allowed big watery tears to leak all the way down my cheeks and drip onto my collarbones.
The first was “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone. It details the life of Michelangelo, trying to survive in the Cruel 16th Century, trying to make a living from that which is his passion. He lives in poverty, endures abuse and is treated cruelly and unfairly for most of his life. It is a beautifully written book, highly detailed and spans many many pages. Written over fifty years ago, the writing style is very different to modern day novels, somewhat “old-fashioned” I suppose. Ironically, the first half of the book, took me over two years to read. Ridiculous, I know, but it is the sort of book that needs concentration, and needs to be read in long stretches, definitely not as a pre-bedtime quick read. So over a two year period, I started and restarted the book umpteen times. The second half of the book was read on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, in the pre-baby days where reading for a few hours at a stretch was still possible. The last few pages were frantically turned as our flight home made the decent into Johannesburg. I did not even notice the tears streaming down my face until Gary asked me what was wrong, as I closed the book, having finally conquered it. I cried for the injustices that Michelangelo had been dealt. I cried for this poor wretched soul who was trapped in his own brilliance. Misunderstood and mistreated. I cried for how sad his life was, and how unfair.
The second is, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini which I finished reading on Sunday morning. Famous for his first novel, “The Kite Runner”, this is Hosseini’s second book. The story follows two young girls living in Afghanistan, a generation apart, whose paths cross when they become married to the same man. It tells a tale of the injustices done to women, of their mistreatment, of the hardships they have to bear, their lack of true freedom, and of the devastation that war causes. It is also a love story, and one of how true friendship develops and endures even the greatest misery. It is one of the most heart-breaking books I have ever read. The book is an easy read, just under 400 pages, and is un-put-down-able. Khaled Hosseini is a magical story teller, and paints his characters and scenes with beautiful words. I truly felt that I knew these women that he spoke about, and my heart broke for each of them on many occasions. Although a work of fiction, the events described are real, and the way in which women are treated is real. The book made me think of how fortunate I am, and how easy my life is compared to people who experience such devastating suffering. And how the stuff I complain about is so small in the bigger scheme of things. It made me feel grateful for my freedom as a human being, grateful for my relationship with my husband and my children. This book has definitely become one of my all-time favourites.
The title of the book comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem “Kabul”, by the 17th-century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi:
“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”