A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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Summary of A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is a powerful and symbolic novel set in Afghanistan. The book’s timeline spans from the early 1960s to the early 2000s. The story centers around two women, Mariam and Laila, who are brought together by their shared experiences of war and oppression. Mariam, a beautiful girl who lives outside Herat, is taken in by her father and forced to marry Rasheed. Rasheed is a widowed shoemaker in Kabul. Despite her initial reluctance, Mariam is subjected to Rasheed’s abuse, and her only hope for happiness is her ability to replace the son he lost years ago.

Laila, a young and intelligent girl from a loving family, lives in the street close to Rasheed and Mariam. The war against the Soviets disrupts her childhood, and her older brothers leave to join the war. Laila finds solace in the company of her friend Tariq, but their happiness is short-lived as Tariq dies in the war. Devastated and pregnant with Tariq’s child, Laila marries Mariam’s husband, Rasheed. Initially, Mariam feels hurt and revengeful by Laila’s presence, but the two women eventually become allies against Rasheed’s abuse.

As the novel progresses, The US invasion of Afghanistan further disrupts the lives of these two ladies, forcing them to flee to Pakistan. However, their entrance to the new land brings joy for Laila as she reunites with Tariq. Afterward, they move back to Kabul to help rebuild their city. Laila becomes a schoolteacher at the orphanage where Aziza once lived. The novel ends with Laila becoming pregnant and deciding that if she has a girl, she will name her Mariam in honor of the woman who helped her survive the darkest times of her life. Through the story of Mariam and Laila, the novel explores love, oppression, war, and resilience themes. It illustrates how these women’s experiences reflect the Afghan people’s struggles and how hope and determination can help them overcome their challenges.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today.

Major Themes in the Novel

Depiction of Afghan History

In the novel, Afghanistan’s history is not just a background but an integral part of the character’s storylines. The plot reflects the country’s historical events, such as Mariam and Laila’s birthdays coinciding with regime changes and the increasing violence within Rasheed’s home as the Taliban becomes more oppressive.

Even the characters’ ethnic identities become intertwined with political factions. The novel highlights how political unrest affects the lives of Afghans and how themes such as gender relations, family dynamics, and the burqa intersect with Afghanistan’s history. The story of Mariam and Laila cannot be told without discussing how Afghanistan’s history shaped the late 20th century.

Reputation

In the novel, many characters strive to maintain their reputation rather than desires, and their futile attempts lead them to unrest and shame. In fact, reputation is used as a weapon, as in Rasheed’s interactions, and as a means of causing shame, as with Nana’s treatment of Mariam. Jalil’s shame at Mariam’s illegitimate status leads to the novel’s events. Mariam’s reputation as a harami follows her throughout the novel. Laila is one of the few characters who prioritizes her own desires over others, while Mariam eventually reaches this point in her character arc. In Afghan culture, reputation is personal and has political ramifications, as seen with the severe consequences women like Laila face under the Taliban’s Shari’a laws.

Relationships

The novel explores the complex relationships between women, particularly the dynamic between mothers and daughters. Set in a time when women have limited freedoms, the story highlights the struggles and love between characters such as Mariam and Nana, Laila and her mother, and Laila and her daughter Aziza. These relationships become more assertive as political violence escalates, with Mariam and Laila forming a strong bond as they suffer abuse at the hands of Rasheed. Through their bond, they can find the strength to survive and ultimately resolve the story’s climax, with Mariam even going so far as to pretend to be Laila’s mother to aid their escape.

Oppression and Hope

The characters in the novel struggle to maintain hope amidst political and personal oppression. They cling to individual aspirations such as education and escape, but reality often crushes these hopes. This cycle of hope and disappointment reflects the experiences of Afghan women who face disappointment despite their optimism. The novel also shows how this cycle of hope and disappointment is reflected in the political climate of Afghanistan, as citizens have high expectations of every new ruler but ultimately become disillusioned when their hopes are not fulfilled. Ultimately, the novel illustrates how hope is an intrinsic part of the human experience despite the constant disappointment.

Educational Experiences

The female characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns have vastly different educational experiences. Mariam is taught to read and write by Mullah Faizullah but is discouraged from going to school by her mother. On the other hand, Laila has a father who places high importance on her education, even teaching her himself when it becomes too dangerous for her to attend school. Aziza is educated by both Laila and Mariam, who share their knowledge with her. The novel ends with hope as Zalmai and Aziza, a boy and a girl, go to school together, suggesting that education for women is becoming more accepted and accessible in Afghan society.

The Concept of Marriage and Love

The novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns makes a clear distinction between true love and forced marriages. The marriages depicted in the novel are not based on love but on societal pressure and economic necessity. Characters such as Nana and Mariam remember lost opportunities for true love, while Mariam hopes for love in her marriage but experiences abuse and oppression instead. Laila is the only character who experiences true love with Tariq, and her experiences in their relationship contrast sharply with her forced marriage to Rasheed. The novel highlights the differences between forced marriages and steadfast love through the characters’ experiences of discomfort, fear, and oppression versus contentment, fulfillment, and mutuality.

Suggested Readings

“A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe – Themes

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