A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS

by Khaled Hosseini

GENRE: historical fiction, domestic fiction

CEFR LEVEL: B2+ and above

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

It’s not often that I read a book more than once. I have far too many books on my to-be-read pile that are in desperate need of my attention 😉.

This summer, however, the news of what is happening in Afghanistan made me immediately think of Mariam and Laila, two characters in a novel that I read in 2008 with some of my upper-intermediate students, and I felt I simply had to pick up the book again.

The novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was written in 2007 by Khaled Hosseini and is divided into 4 parts. Part 1 tells the story of Mariam, a young girl born in Afghanistan in the 1950s. In Part 2, you are introduced to Laila, a city girl born in Kabul in the late 1970s. The lives of these two women intersect in Part 3 and in the final part, the story finishes from Laila’s perspective.

Throughout the novel, you discover how both global and regional power struggles bring chaos and destruction to Afghanistan and to these characters’ lives. As Hosseini was born in Kabul, he gives you a real insight into daily life in the city both before and during the previous reign of the Taliban.

It’s a powerful read and totally heartbreaking in places due to the topic matter. That said, I strongly recommend this book to you if you want a more intimate look at life in Afghanistan. The chapters are short and the novel is well structured, so it is suitable for strong upper-intermediate English learners. What’s more, Hosseini’s gift of being such a wonderful storyteller means that, as happened to me, you will fall in love with Mariam and Laila … and they will stay with you long after you have finished the novel.

Student review

Here’s what one of my lovely students had to say about it:


I have very much enjoyed reading the novel and discussing it every week with Jenny. From the first chapter, the characters caught my attention and the more I read, the more I was hooked on the story.

The novel reflects very well the lack of rights and opportunities that Afghan women suffer and therefore the story is hard and sad. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to everyone. 

Reading it in English has been an exciting experience for me, sometimes a little challenging because I have felt that I lost some nuances and information. Nevertheless, I think that it’s an interesting novel for English learners with an upper-intermediate level because it’s very well written and it’s easy to follow the full story even without knowing the meaning of a lot of words, especially adjectives. 


Asun

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation funds grantees who provide humanitarian relief and shelter to families, economic opportunity for women, and healthcare and education for children in Afghanistan. You can find more information here


MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER

by Oyinkan Braithwaite

GENRE: crime, satire

CEFR LEVEL: B2 and above

 “That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would receive the blame for giving her the drink. Ayoola would fail a class, and I would be blamed for not coaching her. Ayoola would take an apple and leave the store without paying for it, and I would be blamed for letting her get hungry.”

Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, The Serial Killer

This novel caught my attention when I was at the airport once, back in the days when I was able to travel every 6 weeks to the UK (oh I miss those days). I used to get on the plane carrying at least 2 brand-new novels in my bag. Did you know that collecting books is also a hobby of mine as well as reading them? 😂

Well, I am glad both the title and the cover caught my eye. This book is not really a crime thriller despite the title and that is perfect for me as I often read at night and have a very vivid imagination! 😱 The real focus of the story is the relationship between two sisters who are total opposites: Ayoola is beautiful and carefree (and a serial killer!) while Korede is dependable and practical, and she will do anything to protect her sister.

But what happens when Ayoola decides that she wants to go out with the doctor that Korede adores? Will he be Ayoola’s next victim? How will Korede react to this love triangle?

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Nigerian author Braithwaite, who gives us an insight into her home country but doesn’t play into stereotypes. The story is full of dark humour and packs a real punch 🤛 (= has a powerful effect/impact). What’s more, it’s a fairly easy read as the writing style is direct and simple and the chapters are short. It is suitable for learners with a B2 level and above. If you are a fan of dark humour, try it and let me know what you think!


ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

by Gail Honeyman

GENRE: psychological fiction, humour

CEFR LEVEL: B2 and above

If there is one thing I love, it is showing my students that they can read a novel in English, enjoy it and learn so much in the process. I recently finished a course on this novel with one of my phone students, Laura. Let’s see what she had to say about it:

“I personally liked the novel because it’s an ode to friendship. Without friends, life is not as much fun and as we say in Spanish: “If you have a friend, you have a treasure”. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a story about overcoming obstacles. The author writes about serious issues like alcoholism and depression with a touch of humour that leaves no place for boredom.

The story keeps you hooked. It’s a heartwarming, emotional and dramatic novel that I would recommend undoubtedly for English learners who have a B2 level. Moreover, as an English learner, it helps you to enhance your vocabulary and to learn the basic formulas for the English language in a clear and natural way. It provides you with a lot of new idioms, phrasal verbs as well which, placed in context, make you understand and remember them easily.

Be brave and try it!  :0)

So what are you waiting for? I am sure you will love Eleanor just as much as I did.

Happy reading! 😊📚