A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns was written by Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner. I have not read The Kite Runner, which was a best seller, however based on my unexpectedly emotional response to A Thousand Splendid Suns, I will be reading it sooner rather than later.

A Thousand Splendid Suns begins with Mariam, a child who lives with her mother in Afghanistan. Mariam is a ‘harami,’ which she learns from her mother is something to be ashamed of, as a harami is a person whose mother is unmarried. As Mariam’s angry and unhappy mother Nana points out, a woman will always get the blame for a wrong.

Mariam’s father, Jalil, is a rich man who has three wives and nine legitimate children. He provides for Mariam and Nana, and his weekly visits to their isolated home are the highlight of Mariam’s life. Mariam has very little contact with the outside world, although she is taught her prayers and Koran recitations by Mullah Faizullah, who tries unsuccessfully to persuade Nana to allow Mariam to go to school.

When Mariam turns 15, she asks her father to take her to see a movie, Pinocchio at the movie theatre he owns. Jalil tries to disuade her and when he does not meet her at the time she has suggested, Mariam walks into town for the first time in her life. Mariam finds Jalil’s home and waits outside overnight, while Jalil hides inside, pretending not to be at home. In the morning Jalil’s driver takes Mariam home, where they find Nana dead. She has hung herself from a tree.

Life for Mariam goes from bad to worse. Jalil arranges a marriage for Mariam to a much older man, Rasheed and she goes to live with him in Kabul as his possession. Rasheed forces Mariam to wear a burqua and is unrelentingly cruel and violent towards her, which worsens as it becomes clear that Mariam will not be able to have a child.

The story moves from Mariam’s to a girl from Kabul named Laila, who is the daughter of Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbour. Laila’s father, Babi, is a teacher who wants the family to move to America, where their family would be free from the worsening misery Afghanistan is suffering from the Soviet invasion. Babi also wants a university education for Laila. Laila’s mother will not leave Afghanistan though and becomes more and more bitter and mentally unhinged following the death of her sons in the war. Laila’s freindship with a local boy, Tariq and his family, provide Laila with the love that her mother is no longer able to give her.

As Laila enters her teens the fighting in Afghanistan worsens and the remainder of the story is set against the background of the war, the reign of the Taliban and eventually the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Laila and Mariam’s stories eventually meet up and their lives are linked.

The death of main characters due to the war reminded me that the people of Afghanistan are the same as other people the world over, who are somehow able to hope and laugh and love in the midst of terrible times. Women are marginalised, brutalised and killed at the whims of those who are stronger, men are killed fighting for causes and innocent men, women and children are killed, maimed, starved and harmed in ways which are everyday events for the people of Afghanistan.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is beautifully written. Although the story is sad and the setting horrific, Mariam and Laila retain their dignity and continue to do the best that they can to live according to their values. This book was a massive eye opener for me and a reminder of how lucky I am to live free of the constraints these characters endure.

Scones

Scones 2

Nana J was the best scone-maker in the family, according to everyone who ever ate one of her scones. She made plain scones, date scones and sultana scones. Hot from the oven was the only way to eat them, because as Dad says, a cold scone is a stale scone.

Even though I must have watched her make them a hundred times, I never wrote down her recipe. Now it is lost forever, because nobody else ever wrote down Nana’s recipe either.

There are a few of Nana’s tricks I remember though. The first is, sift the flour three times so that it is light and airy. The second is, mix the dough quickly using a knife and knead the dough as little as possible to avoid knocking the air out of the mixture. Thirdly, cook the scones in a very hot oven.

3 Cups self raising flour
1 tspn cornflour
1 tspn baking powder
2 tblspn cream
1 Cup milk (use more as required)

Pre heat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius (hot).

Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder three times. Make a well in the middle and mix in the cream and milk using a knife.

As quickly as possible, mix the dough and roll out to about 2cm thick on a floured surface. Use a cutter to cut out the scones (I used a small glass).

Scones 3

Place slightly apart on a tray and brush the tops with a little bit of milk. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes and serve hot with jam and cream.

Scones

Narrandera Hot Rod Run Easter 2014

Narrandera Easter 2014

He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers, like a great many Australian men is into cars, hot rods and kustoms in particular. This means that a great many of our family holidays are driving holidays to Hot Rod Runs, which are events put on by hot rod clubs for the enjoyment of the rodding community.

This year He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers, our neice S and I attended the 30th anniversay of the Narrandera Hot Rod Run. This run is held every year at Easter in Narrandera, a small town on the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales. The run is attended by hot rodders from all over Australia. Some drive their hot rod or kustom to the event, while others trailer their vehicles.

Narrandera is a beautiful town, with wide streets, big verandahs and lovely parks and gardens. Patrick Hartigan, the priest who wrote bush poetry, (‘Said Hanrahan’ and Around the Boree Log), under the nom de plume of John O’Brien lived in Narrandera. There is a huge Royal Doultan fountain in a park in the middle of town and the big playable guitar at the Tourist Information Centre.

The Lake Talbot Caravan Park is the place to stay during the event, with quite a few people bringing tear drop trailers or old caravans. I saw a Carapark, which looks like a big silver horse float, a sweet little red and white caravan which was almost perfectly round, and plenty of retro vans. The Blackhill Ramblers played rockabilly music under the big marquee at the park on Sunday night, while the audience sat around camp fires and enjoyed the music.

The weekend followed a similar pattern to that of other years. There are runs (drives) to other local towns and several show’n’shines (clean your car until it shines, then show it to everyone else). The Sunday show’n’shine was at a gorgeous park in the middle of town where rodders met up with friends, were entertained by the band, shopped at the markets and admired each other’s cars.

The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday night cruise, where entrants cruised up and down Narrandera’s long, wide main street, watched by crowds of townspeople and visiting hot rodders. S loved cruising in the front seat of a mate’s hot rod, especially when other kids asked if they could have a ride.

Terry's car Narranderra Easter 2014

The local community get in on the act too, with the Lions Club selling steak sandwiches and hotdog and various other events associated with the run raising money for charity.

The hot rodding community are a good hearted, family minded bunch of people who love cars. You don’t even have to own a hot rod or kustom to join in the fun.