About the Book

Book Protagonist: Mariam and Laila
Publication Date: 2007
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama

Character List

A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Khaled Hosseini

In 'A Thousand Splendid Suns,' by Khaled Hosseini, we follow the character arcs of Mariam and Laila, two women from quite different origins who are compelled by circumstance to come together.

The characters in Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ are intricate and multifaceted, with each having a distinct history, motivations, and personality. Mariam and Laila, the two major characters, are ladies from quite different backgrounds who are pulled together by uncontrollable circumstances. Laila is a young girl who yearns for a better life but is also forced into marriage because of the war and instability in Afghanistan, whereas Mariam is a poor, illegitimate child who is forced into an arranged marriage with an older, abusive man.

Both Mariam and Laila experience a variety of difficulties and sufferings throughout the book, such as abuse, oppression, and violence, and they must find the perseverance to get through these difficulties. Both ladies are represented as being strong, resilient, and determined despite having distinct backgrounds and personalities. They are also able to form a close connection as they support one another during difficult times. The book’s male characters are equally nuanced and multifaceted, ranging from compassionate and helpful to oppressive and abusive. The complex social and cultural dynamics of Afghanistan are portrayed by Hosseini, especially the place of women and the effects of conflict and political instability on people’s lives and families.

The Major Characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns


One of the two main characters in the book ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns is Mariam. Mariam will have a difficult time overcoming her status as a bastard kid because she is Jalil’s illegitimate daughter. From a very young age, Mariam must deal with severe suffering and feelings of shame. She is constantly made to feel worthless, as seen by Jalil’s refusal to recognize her as Nana’s legitimate daughter even after Nana’s passing and Rasheed’s startling exploitation of her harami status against her.

Mariam faces a greater lack of love from Rasheed, the husband her father chooses to wed her off to after being rejected by both her father and mother and being rough-housed by her mother. Mariam puts up with Rasheed’s abuse even though she doesn’t enjoy it because she is aware that in Afghan society, women are expected to be tolerant and that challenging him would only put her in danger. When Laila shows her strength against Rasheed, Mariam finally musters the strength to fight back.

Because she lacks any other role models for how to treat other women, Mariam imitates her own mother’s stern demeanor when she first meets Laila. Mariam learns how to be vulnerable, how to love, and how to form a deep connection with another woman through Laila. Mariam finally finds love because of her close relationship with Laila and her friendship with Aziza. Mariam’s choice to give up her life for Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai to flee is a potent illustration of both her capacity for pain and her capacity for love. She represents perseverance in the face of repression and oppressive governmental structures.


Young Laila, a Tajik girl with blond hair and green eyes, is in love with Tariq, a buddy from childhood. Laila is taken in by Mariam and Rasheed after Tariq’s family leaves Kabul due to rocket attacks, and she barely escapes an attack that kills her parents. Laila, who later learns Tariq is deceased, marries Rasheed as his second wife, but only because she is already expecting Tariq’s kid and needs a husband to help her safeguard her unborn child. Rasheed immediately assumes that the kid, Aziza, is not his but Tariq’s since Rasheed’s previous wife, Mariam, hates Laila for stealing her husband. Rasheed starts to mistreat Laila. Laila and Mariam eventually get along, and Laila confides in Mariam to tell her the truth about Aziza.

The two women put up with Rasheed’s abuse together. Laila also gave birth to a son through Rasheed. Tariq visits Rasheed and Laila’s home one day. When Rasheed learns the truth, he attempts to murder Laila, but Mariam stops him by slaying him with a shovel. Mariam stays behind and accepts the death penalty for the murder, while Laila flees with her son by Rasheed, and daughter by Tariq. Marrying and raising the two kids together are Laila and Tariq. They end up working in an orphanage in Kabul, where Mariam’s father’s money was used to upgrade the facility.


Rasheed, a Pashtun shoemaker in Kabul, arranges Mariam’s marriage with Jalil so that Jalil won’t have to care for his daughter, who was born outside of marriage and is a cause of embarrassment for Jalil. Mariam must wear a burqa in public because Rasheed believes in the strict Islamic treatment of women. When she is unable to give him a child, he becomes aggressive and abusive. Later on, he also weds Laila, a 14-year-old girl he rescues from the wreckage after a bomb decimates her home and murders her parents. Rasheed escalates his violence and abuse because he believes Laila lied to him and was expecting a child at the time of their marriage. Rasheed loses control when Tariq, Laila’s true love, who was thought to be dead, shows up, and he nearly kills her. Mariam, Rasheed’s other wife, uses a shovel to kill Rasheed, saving Laila’s life in the process.


Rasheed’s persona is a foil to Tariq, Laila’s childhood sweetheart and future spouse. Tariq is a kind man whose real leg was amputated by a landmine; he now walks on a prosthetic limb. Tariq still has a just perspective on the world in spite of this tragedy. He is quite lighthearted when he is young, but as he gets older and deals with the impacts of Afghanistan’s political upheavals, he develops an incredibly strong sense of resilience. He adjusts when necessary, as evidenced by the time he flees with his family from Kabul to Pakistan and the other times he must run, up until the point in the novel when he finally arrives at the hotel where he works.

Rasheed wants to control and own Laila, whilst Tariq shows his love by being faithful to her. Throughout ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ he makes numerous attempts to convince Laila to follow him, but he always respects her decision. Aziza and Zalmai are treated by Tariq as though they are both his biological children. Even if they hold a few different opinions, he loves his nation just as much as Laila does. In the end, they discover that they share a desire for Afghanistan to be rebuilt and made into a home.

The Minor Characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns


Mariam’s father, Jalil, is a well-dressed, wealthy, and attractive cinema owner who sees Mariam every Thursday. Jalil has three wives and ten legally-born children. When Mariam tries to see Jalil in public, he avoids her. After Mariam’s mother commits suicide, Jalil temporarily takes Mariam in before sending her away and setting up her marriage to Rasheed, a strict man who makes Mariam wear a burqa. Mariam vows never to talk to Jalil again after he refuses to let her live with him and pushes her to be married.

He attempts to apologize to Mariam years later, but she won’t accept him. It is found that Jalil left Mariam a box containing an apologetic letter and money before he passed away, long after Mariam had been sent to death for the murder of Rasheed. Jalil gives Mariam money, and she uses it to upgrade an orphanage.


Rasheed is the father of Laila’s second child, Zalmai. He is Rasheed’s favorite and spoilt little boy who worships his father. Due to his gossip about Tariq’s visit, there is a violent altercation that results in Rasheed’s murder. He initially opposes Tariq being his stepfather, but with time, he grows to adore him.


Tariq is the father of Laila’s first child, Aziza. She resembles Laila most noticeably, although she also has Tariq’s calm brilliance. Rasheed tries to pass Aziza off as his daughter, but he knows Tariq must be the father, and he treats her poorly, especially after the birth of his son Zalmai. When the family is forced into an orphanage because they are starving, Aziza bravely tries to persuade her mother that she is okay there. After Rasheed is killed, Laila comes to get Aziza, and she is reunited with her biological father, Tariq. Aziza is content to live with her mother and true father, although she still experiences dreams of Rasheed’s cruelty and abandonment.


Jalil’s former girlfriend and Mariam’s mother. Mariam was born to her outside of marriage, and she frequently calls Mariam a bastard child. She is ruthlessly practical and only teaches Mariam the skills she sees as beneficial for women, such as cooking and housekeeping. She allegedly experiences severe convulsions or seizures. Nana eventually commits suicide.


Dad of Laila. He is a forward-thinking educator who starts homeschooling Laila when it becomes unsafe for her to attend school. Despite his best efforts and good intentions, Babi cannot stop the political upheaval or his wife’s melancholy. Despite the brutality, he can appreciate Afghanistan’s beauty. While attempting to flee Kabul, he is killed in a rocket explosion.


Mother of Laila. Mammy’s personality is contrasted with that of Mariam’s mother, Nana. Laila is given responsibilities at a young age by her mother, who is rigorous but compassionate to her. There is a suggestion that Mammy experiences depression. When her sons pass away, she sinks even further into her grief and turns into a shell of a person. Babi claims that she used to be stunning and lively. While attempting to leave Kabul, she is killed in a rocket explosion.


Is Aziza the child of Rasheed in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

Yes, Aziza is Rasheed’s child. Aziza is the child of Laila and Tariq, but once Rasheed weds Laila, he adopts her as his child. Rasheed loves Aziza with a level of tenderness that he does not share with his biological son, Zalmai, even though he is not her original father.

Who is the protagonist in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

Mariam and Laila are both protagonists of the story. From the 1960s until the early 2000s, the story follows their lives in Afghanistan and how their paths cross as they deal with violence, abuse, and tyranny under Taliban rule. Mariam and Laila both see substantial character growth as they fight to survive and find hope throughout the book.

Who is the antagonist of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

The antagonist in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini isn’t a specific person; rather, it’s the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its system of oppression and violence. The Taliban dictatorship, an extremist Islamic organization that seized power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, imposed harsh and discriminatory regulations against women, restricting their freedom of movement, access to education, and fundamental human rights.

In what ways do Mariam and Laila’s characters defer in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

Mariam, raised in a small village, faces shame and hardship due to her illegitimate status. From a privileged background in Kabul, Laila navigates war and societal changes. Mariam endures an abusive marriage, while Laila finds love with her childhood friend.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...