Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

I just finished reading Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. It's a very good book, and its popularity gives me faith in the American book-reading public. I know he made his name with The Kite Runner, and they already made a movie and all, but this book is better. Hosseini's storytelling talent and incredibly, almost painfully honest portrayals of the guts and grit of human relationships, which made The Kite Runner so rightfully popular, are here refined even further. So, too, is the pain and torment, the heartbreak, the devastation of a whole country told through so many devastations of individual lives.

There was a particular point that caught me, though, in the midst of all the terror and destruction wrought by the waves of utopian revolutionaries, Soviet "liberators", counterrevolutionaries, and holy warriors of all stripes whose various crusades all but destroyed Afghanistan. At one point in the novel, a character is standing trial before a Taliban judge, who explains in the sentencing that while the circumstances of the crime tempted him to mercy, he was himself nearing death, and feared that he would be held to account for his failure to uphold God's law. He imagines God standing judgement upon him saying, "But it was not for you to forgive, Mullah". Probably the second-most common Muslim epithet for God is al-Rahman, the merciful. Every letter, every document, every memo in the devout Muslim world is headed by the phrase bismallah al-rahman wal-rahim. In the name of God, the Merciful, the Benificient. Islam hangs all hope of salvation on this, the mercy of God. Does God really then hold a monopoly on mercy?

This point struck me so because it is the complete reversal of a Christian understanding. My God is indeed not merciful, not in the sense of a pitying judge who pardons the truly guilty, for He is just, and justice demands payment for sin. This payment has been made. Our sins are not pardoned out of mercy, they are absolved by Christ's redeeming sacrifice. All of which allows us to leave divine judgement where it belongs, in God's hands. A judge, no matter his personal faith, does God's work when he rules wisely according to the law of the land. We ought not be so bound by the Law that we fear damnation for encroaching on God's mercy, for stepping on His toes.


Thursday's Child said...


Melody said...

Durn. Now I have to go and buy the hardcover. I've been waiting (forever!) for the paperback to come out, so it can "match" my paperback of The Kite Runner. But I don't think I can wait much longer.

Jane said...

This is on my to-read list. I think I need to move it up.