Thursday, February 2, 2023

From the Author Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hossini, author of A Thousand Splendid Suns

It has always been my hope that A Thousand Splendid Suns would become a relic of the past. Through the story of Mariam and Laila, the novel chronicles the struggles and hopes of Afghan women over decades of violence and political turmoil. The 1990’s, in particular, were punishing years for Afghan women. In the civil war of 1992-1996—a brutal conflict that saw swaths of Kabul demolished and claimed some 50,000 lives—women bore the brunt of suffering. Women were targeted and used as spoils of war. They were abducted, sexually assaulted, forced into marriage with Mujahideen militiamen, and sold into prostitution rings. The brutality ended in 1996, when the Taliban drove out the fractured Mujahideen. But peace and stability came at a crushing cost—especially to women.

What happened next is well documented. The Taliban stripped women of most essential rights. Draconian laws prohibited women from traveling without a male companion. Women were shut out of schools, government positions, and most sectors of the labor market. Wearing jewelry, laughing in public, painting fingernails, singing, or watching unapproved films became crimes punishable by flogging or worse. Literacy rates plummeted. Suicide and mental illness among girls and women skyrocketed. The burqa became a symbol of the relentless oppression of Afghan women.

When A Thousand Splendid Suns was published in 2007, a few years after the American intervention, it seemed possible to me—maybe even plausible—that my book would in fact become a relic of the past, a tale from a dark era overcome and hopefully left behind. Though in rural Afghanistan conditions often remained onerous for women, millions of girls returned to school. Women enrolled in universities and ran for political office. They served as mayors, provincial governors, police chiefs, lawyers, IT engineers, members of parliament. Women spoke on television nightly. They worked alongside aid workers in NGO’s. Patriarchal cultural norms continued to present challenges to female autonomy, but Afghan women, as the saying goes, “nevertheless persisted.”

I won’t ever forget the horrific scenes at the Kabul airport in August 2021. Nor how it felt like American military planes had scarcely left Afghan airspace before the Taliban claimed Kabul. The Taliban’s second reign has been an unmitigated disaster. The economy is on the verge of collapse. Nearly 24 million need vital humanitarian relief. Millions don’t know where their next meal will come from. Millions more are displaced. Draconian laws are back. And, as in the 1990’s, it has fallen once again on Afghan women to bear the brunt. Once more they have lost their freedom of movement. Once again, they are barred from high school and university. Once more their medical care is comprised, their work opportunities curtailed, their dignity taken.

I am convinced that there is no group of people more resilient or resourceful on the planet than Afghan women. They are an enormous asset to Afghanistan, and for the country to have any chance at a viable future, women must be allowed to fully practice their rights. They must be given access to economic, civic, and legal space to make good on their incalculable contributions.

Director Roya Sadat will lead the stage production which was brought to life by composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kitsakos.

Aldous Huxley once said that, after silence, music comes closest to expressing the inexpressible. We see reflected in music who we are, what it means to be human in this world. Opera is uniquely powerful in this regard: the stagecraft, the dramatic narrative, and the music combined produce heightened emotional tension through which we find the great human themes expressed: loss, pain, love, joy, regret. The arts remain our most powerful teachers of empathy, and it is my hope that this opera proves not only a beautiful musical journey but also an expression—through the tale of Mariam and Laila—of the collective struggles and sacrifices of Afghan women. I am grateful to Seattle Opera and everyone on this production, with special thanks to my friend the indefatigable Sheila Silver for her passion and many years of toil on this opera, to librettist Stephen Kitsakos, and to filmmaker Roya Sadat, a fellow Afghan, for helming this opera. No doubt she too hopes that A Thousand Splendid Suns will become one day a relic of an erstwhile era.

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