About the Book

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


A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Khaled Hosseini

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a powerful and thought-provoking book that perfectly conveys both the grim reality of life in Afghanistan and the core of human resiliency.

In his novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ Khaled Hosseini employs quotes to capture the essence of the character’s experiences and the book’s overarching themes. These dialogues are poignant and highly evocative, perfectly encapsulating the struggles, resilience, and compassion of the Afghan people in the face of persecution and conflict. They provide valuable insights into the emotions, motivations, and significant impacts of the characters’ circumstances. Hosseini’s passages are crafted with great skill, offering not only literary beauty but also prompting contemplation on the themes of love, sacrifice, survival, and the unwavering spirit of hope.

These memorable lines leave a lasting impression on readers, underscoring the profound impact of the story and the enduring power of human connection in the face of adversity. Hosseini’s masterful use of language elevates the novel to a work of art, while his exploration of complex themes and characters makes it a compelling and thought-provoking read.A Thousand Splendid Suns is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of the human heart.

The Weight of Reputation in A Thousand Splendid Suns

Nana was wrong about Herat too. No one pointed. No one laughed. Mariam walked along noisy, crowded, cypress-lined boulevards, amid a steady stream of pedestrians, bicycle riders, and mule-drawn garis, and no one threw a rock at her. No one called her a harami. Hardly anyone even looked at her. She was, unexpectedly, marvelously, an ordinary person here.

Chapter 5 of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ depicts a pivotal moment in Mariam’s life as she ventures out of her mother’s kolba for the first time. Throughout her upbringing, Mariam’s mother, Nana, has wielded her status as a harami as a means of control. However, Mariam’s journey to Herat marks the first time she experiences the freedom of shedding the false reputation that has been used to define her. In Herat, Mariam is met with a refreshing change in treatment from those around her, who do not view her with the same disdain as her mother. This newfound sense of normalcy deeply impacts the young Mariam, as she is finally able to escape the constant reminder of her shame. Despite this, Mariam remains bound by the label of harami throughout the novel, a reminder of the societal constraints that continue to shape her life.

‘Anyway, this isn’t about me or the bra. It’s about you and Tariq. He’s a boy, you see, and, as such, what does he care about your reputation? But you? The reputation of a girl, especially one as pretty as you, is a delicate thing, Laila. Like a mynah bird in your hands. Slacken your grip and away it flies.’

This conversation takes place in Chapter 23 of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ when Mammy talks about Laila’s friendship with Tariq. Laila is finally old enough to qualify as a young woman. Laila would need to be prepared for a marriage suitor as was customary in Afghan society. Laila has demonstrated that this is not the future she wants for herself, despite Mammy appearing to have the best intentions for her daughter in this comment. Mammy thinks it’s important for Laila to keep her reputation intact so she can have a good marriage and be respected rather than ruining it by continuing her relationship with Tariq. Mammy compares one’s reputation to a mynah bird to show how fragile it really is.

‘The point is, I am your husband now, and it falls on me to guard not only your honor but ours, yes, our nang and namoos. That is the husband’s burden. You let me worry about that.’

In Chapter 31, Rasheed conveys to Laila his revised expectations for their marriage. While attempting to be chivalrous, Rasheed uses the term “honor” in place of “reputation” and connects Laila’s reputation to his own by stating, “not only your honor but ours.” Rasheed believes that the best way to safeguard Laila’s reputation is to exert control over her and ensure that she does nothing to harm their community’s or society’s perception of him. Furthermore, he employs softer language to mask his true intention, which is to assert his dominance over Laila as his wife and demand her submission. Rasheed’s actions are rooted in a patriarchal mindset, where a woman’s worth is tied to her husband’s reputation.

Echoes of Afghanistan’s History

The freedoms and opportunities that women had enjoyed between 1978 and 1992 were a thing of the past now–Laila could still remember Babi saying of those years of communist rule, It’s a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan, Laila. Since the Mujahideen takeover in April 1992, Afghanistan’s name had been changed to the Islamic State of Afghanistan.

The quote is from Chapter 36, where Laila and Mariam are endeavoring to escape Kabul. Despite the already perilous nature of their plan, the political climate further exacerbates the risk. Laila draws a comparison between her current predicament and a past era, which her father, Babi, believed was brimming with potential. These alterations have a direct impact on how Laila and Mariam must flee, including the need to secure a male companion. Had this occurred during the Afghanistan that Babi envisioned, they would not find themselves in their current dire circumstances. This serves as a prime example of how Laila, during times of adversity, evokes her father’s vision of Afghanistan.

Rasheed laughed. Mariam heard the answer in his laugh: that in the eyes of the Taliban, being a communist and the leader of the dreaded KHAD made Najibullah only slightly more contemptible than a woman.

In Chapter 37, Rasheed and Mariam engage in a discussion regarding the latest political developments. During this conversation, a perceptive connection is made between Rasheed’s political beliefs and the rising popularity of certain ideologies in the novel. Rasheed’s laughter serves as an indication of his agreement with the Taliban, who have recently begun enforcing oppressive Shari’a laws. These laws are primarily aimed at controlling women, which is a cause for concern. Although the Taliban is not directly killing women, their laws demonstrate a deep-seated contempt for women and a desire to exert control over them. This situation highlights the need for greater awareness and action to protect the rights and dignity of women in society.

Laila is not as forgiving. Massoud’s violent end brings her no joy, but she remembers too well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branch of some tree days after their funeral.

Upon learning of Massoud’s passing, Laila was compelled to reflect on the atrocities she had endured. Through reading a particular passage, Laila came to a profound realization that much of the violence she had experienced in Kabul was a result of men seeking power. The author’s use of vivid imagery effectively highlights the devastating loss of civilian lives and the catastrophic impact of war. The political turmoil that plagued Afghanistan during Laila’s formative years resulted in the tragic loss of countless human lives. As Laila has grown older and gained some distance from her traumatic experiences, she has come to understand the man who indirectly caused her so much suffering. The impact of war and political upheaval on innocent civilians is a sobering reality that must be acknowledged and addressed.

 Laila, my love, the only enemy an Afghan cannot defeat is himself. 

Laila and her father have a talk in which he makes these remarks concerning the demonstrations and clashes that the topic of women’s emancipation has caused in modern Kabul. In tribal areas, traditional Muslim families keep their female members hidden from view unless they are using burqas, and they forbid them from working. In rigid tribes, the Soviets’ support for the idea of women participating in society was unheard of. This quotation also predicts the conflict that would arise between the various tribal factions after the Soviets are forced to withdraw from Afghanistan. Afghan turmoil is still a result of cultural conflicts, and Babi’s words depict a turbulent past.

Pain, Resilience, and Long-Suffering

 She … let her finger bleed on the sheets where they had lain together. 

It is important to note that Rasheed is not aware of Laila’s pregnancy with Tariq’s child. Despite this, Laila chooses to marry Rasheed to provide a safe and stable home for her unborn child. However, this decision comes at a cost, as Laila is fully aware that it will only make Mariam’s life more difficult. It is worth mentioning that Rasheed will believe Laila to be a virgin when they consummate their marriage, due to the presence of blood on the bed sheets. This act serves as a testament to Laila’s unwavering determination to protect her child and secure a future for them both. It is disheartening to acknowledge that society views women who have been with other men as “damaged goods.” This further highlights the oppressive nature of societal norms and expectations. Laila is forced to resort to self-injury to deceive Rasheed and ensure her survival.

 Mariam would always admire Laila for how much time passed before she screamed.

This quote exemplifies the remarkable progress that Mariam and Laila have made in their relationship, as well as their profound respect for each other. Despite enduring Rasheed’s brutal physical assault and undergoing a cesarean birth without anesthetic, they steadfastly support each other through unspeakable cruelty. Despite the significant losses they have suffered, both women have come to rely on each other as family and a united front against Rasheed. This is a testament to the strength of their bond and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

 The dreams leave Laila shaken. … It is devastating. Every time, it is devastating. 

The aforementioned statement serves as a significant reminder of the immense loss that Laila has suffered, and the excruciating pain she endures in the absence of Mariam in her new life. Throughout the day, Laila is constantly reminded of the countless sacrifices that Mariam made for her, including one that tragically cost Zalmai his father. Despite this, Laila struggles to come to terms with the fact that Mariam was likely put to death. It is evident that Laila is acutely aware of the debt she owes to Mariam for all that she has done, yet this debt has come at the cost of the most significant woman in her life. The repeated use of the phrase “it is devastating” underscores the gravity of this loss.


What is the most saddening aspect of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

One of the most saddening aspects of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is the profound and harrowing suffering endured by the two central female characters, Mariam and Laila. Their experiences of loss, oppression, and abuse are portrayed with unflinching honesty, shining a light on the harsh realities faced by Afghan women in a society plagued by violence and patriarchal domination.

Why is Rasheed a violent character in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

The harsh and patriarchal culture Rasheed lives in is partly to blame for his aggressive impulses. He was brought up in a society that upholds male dominance and controls women, which may have influenced his perception of his inherent superiority and right to rule over his wives.

What is the tone of Khaled Hosseini in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

The monologues in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ stand out for their emotional heft, realism, and capacity to shed light on the characters’ intricate inner lives. They portray the subtleties of human contact, from loving and supportive moments to tense arguments fuelled by bitterness and wrath.

How does Laila react to the death of Mariam in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns?’

When Mariam dies in the story of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ Laila is devastated and deeply affected by her loss. Laila had developed a close bond and friendship with Mariam throughout their shared struggles and hardships. Mariam’s death leaves Laila feeling immense grief and a profound sense of emptiness. She mourns the loss of her companion, mentor, and mother figure.

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.
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