Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Puts Forth a Model for the Nobel, Khaled Hosseini's Grand Literary Efforts


If Nobel Cares for the Human Condition

I have a theory that intolerance is at the root of all evil. It is a topic I explore in my novel This Is the Place, my book of creative nonfiction, Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered and even some of the poetry in my chapbook Tracings.


These books deal with subtle forms of bigotry, a danger always because intolerance and all of its forms— including discrimination—start small. And then they grow. Khalid Hosseini tackles the subject head on, in its final most unspeakable forms, the kind that corrupts and destroys entire populations, indeed entire geographic areas and demographics.


Let's put aside the idea that at least one religion espouses the idea that we are all born with evil in us and must seek grace to overcome it (something that, though it seems that none of  us is perfect, I can't quite buy). That argument is outside the purview of a column on literature.


Rather, I'm addressing what writers call the premise and others outside of literature might simply call a theme. It's something the committee for the Nobel Prize for Literature addresses when they select their prize winners along with the beautiful use of language.


Hosseini is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Kite Runner, in which he examines the demise of Afghanistan and now the absolutely brilliant A Thousand Splendid Suns in which he looks at the same subject but this time from a woman's perspective. If the Nobel Prize committee looks at books that explore the human condition as they claim, they will not pass up Splendid Suns for 2007. They can be forgiven for ignoring Kite Runner because it was a first book (prizes in literature are usually awarded for a body of work). But now, with a body of two like this, it is time.


Splendid Suns is not an easy read. That is not because the language is too dense or ideas too erudite. It is just plain hard to plough through the pain suffered by Afghanistanis in the years between the time the Soviets invaded their country to the post-Taliban efforts of it people reach for some kind of normalcy for its populace.


In fact, this book hustles from turned page to turned page as readily as if it were genre fiction. In case some say it isn't poetic enough for Nobel, that Hosseini doesn’t live up to the committees standards for exquisite language, I argue that Hosseini's skill is evident in his skillful setting of scenes, motivation, characterization and all the other aspects of great writing.


And, yes, that includes his use of language. In fact, I wonder if he tends to reign in his talent for poetic language in order to make this book a bestseller, rather than reaching for the Nobel. Lest anyone should doubt, here is a passage from p.326 of the newly released hardcover. It is paraphrased in order to accommodate free use copyright laws, but you will get the idea:


"Miriam spent ten days in prison . . . watched the prison life in the courtyard. When the summer winds blew, she watched bits of scrap paper ride the currents in a frenzied, corkscrew motion, as they were hurled this way and that high above the prison walls, She watched the winds stir mutiny in the dust . . . . the dust would not be denied. It made homes of ear canals and nostrils, of eyelashes and skin folds, of the space between molars. . . . And then, if a night breeze blew, it did so timidly as if to atone for the excesses of its daytime sibling."


If you, as a reader, are interested in understanding man's inhumanity to man, the true meaning of evil, what it can do and how religion can be twisted to do its bidding, read A Thousand Splendid Suns. And then, write a letter to the Nobel Committee. They may need a bit of prodding to so honor a book written to entertain as well as this one does.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Find a list of websites that will help you proclaim to the world the release of your book at . Click on the Resources for Writers tab at the top of the page and then when the resources page comes up, scroll down for the list of free media release disseminators.  Find other ways to promote your books at little or no cost with The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't.

Writers'  and Readers' Tidbit #2:  I am searching for a few books that the Nobel misses for my Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize. Qualifying books include the kind of literature Noble acknowledges but somehow gets overlooked. I do not judge books by their cover or by the press they are printed on, only by their literary merit. Send me an e-mail for more information: Sept 15th is the deadline.

Readers' Tip: I just finished the last of the books I collected at Book Expo America! ( in New York in May. In addition to Hosseini, I recommend Lisa See's new book, Peony in Love. It is an excellent read but it will also help women understand the history of gender discrimination better, and also serve as a reminder of how important self expression is to self worth and independence.

2007 Past Columns

Khaled Hosseini's Grand Literary Efforts

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.