A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns, published in 2007, is Khaled Hosseini's second novel. Inspired by a 2003 trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, the author's place of birth, the story follows the lives of two Afghan women, their families, friendships, and hopes for the future, set against a backdrop of three decades of political strife. Published just four years after the wildly successful debut of his first novel, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns received an equally enthusiastic reception from critics and readers alike.
By focusing on the relationship between his two main characters, Mariam and Laila, two very different women thrust into identical and horrific circumstances, Hosseini gives readers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of Afghan women and their struggle to survive against the backdrop of war. Set in contemporary Afghanistan, the novel covers the Soviet invasion, the rise of the Taliban, and post-Taliban efforts to rebuild the country. Hosseini uses simple, unadorned language to tell a heartbreakingly lyrical story of an unlikely friendship and undying love. In her Library Journal review, Barbara Hoffert writes, “Hosseini deftly sketches the history of his native land in the late twentieth century while also delivering a sensitive and utterly persuasive dual portrait.”
Khaled Hosseini was born on March 4, 1965, in Kabul, Afghanistan, to a father who was a
diplomat and a mother who was a teacher. His father's diplomatic assignments took the family to Tehran from 1970 to 1973 and to Paris from 1976 to 1980. That year, Soviet troops took control of an unstable Afghanistan after Afghan king Zahir Shah was overthrown in a bloodless coup. The Hosseinis were granted political asylum in the United States and moved—leaving everything behind—to San Jose, California. Hosseini was fifteen years old at the time. He eventually earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Santa Clara University in 1988 and went on to study medicine at the University of San Diego. He became a medical doctor in 1993. While working as a practicing medical internist at a Los Angeles hospital, Hosseini pursued his love of writing. His debut novel, The Kite Runner, was published in 2003 and quickly became an international bestseller. It was adapted into a film that was released in 2007, the same year his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published. In 2006 the novelist was named a U.S. envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), one of the world's foremost humanitarian agencies. He also volunteers for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
A 2003 trip to Kabul became the inspiration for A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini was prompted to write about the lives of Afghan women after listening to the stories of burqaclad mothers begging in the streets with their children. Set against the backdrop of thirty years of tumultuous history, the novel explores how civil war and the rise of the Taliban affect Afghan families, their friendships, and their hopes for the future. Booklist contributor Kristine Huntley writes, “Unimaginably tragic, Hosseini's magnificent second novel is a sad and beautiful testament to both Afghani suffering and strength.” In her Library Journal review, Barbara Hoffert writes that A Thousand Splendid Suns “proves that one can write a successful follow-up after debuting with a phenomenal bestseller.”
Mariam is five years old at the beginning of A Thousand Splendid Suns. She learns that she is a harami, or bastard, but does not know what that means. Jalil, her father, visits her every Thursday and tells her stories about Herat, the city where she was born. The husband of three wives and the father of nine legitimate children, Jalil is one of the wealthiest men in Herat.
Nana, Mariam's mother, cannot stand Jalil. She tells Mariam that he betrayed them, cast them out of his house like they were nothing to him, but Mariam loves him because he makes her feel special.
Two of Jalil's sons deliver food and supplies to Mariam and Nana every month. Mariam and Nana receive few visitors. Mariam's favorite is Mullah Faizullah, the elderly village Koran tutor. More than just a tutor, Faizullah is also Mariam's dear friend. He supports the idea of her going to school, even though Nana forbids it. “What's the sense schooling a girl like you? It's like shining a spittoon. And you'll learn nothing of value in those schools. There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school.” She tells Mariam she need only learn how to endure.
Mariam looks forward to nothing more than her weekly visits with her father. Despite all the bad things she says when he is not around, Nana treats Jalil with respect when he comes on Thursdays. When they are alone, Jalil tells Mariam about the world at large, and shows her newspaper clippings in which he thinks she might be interested. At night, lying in her cot, Mariam wonders what his house is like and fantasizes about living there with his other children.
It is the spring of 1974 and Mariam, for the first time in her life, heads down the hill for Herat. She finds someone to take her to Jalil's house, but once she gets there she is not allowed inside. She refuses to leave, opting instead to spend the night outside the gate. The next morning the driver forces her into the car and takes her home. He escorts her to the kolba, but, halfway there, suddenly tells her to turn around and go back. Before she knows what is happening, she sees Nana dangling from a rope, hanging from a tree.
Nana is buried “in a corner of the cemetery in Gul Daman.” Jalil makes a great show of tending to Mariam, collecting her things, putting them in a suitcase, and asking repeatedly if she needs anything. Mariam does not cry until Mullah Faizullah comes to comfort her. His words do not soothe her, though, as Mariam keeps hearing her mother saying, “I'll die if you go. I'll just die.”
Jalil allows Mariam to stay in an upstairs room of his house. On the way, Mariam begins to hear Jalil “with Nana's ears.” Now she hears “the insincerity that had always lurked beneath, the hollow, false assurances.” A week later, Afsoon, one of Jalil's wives, comes to Mariam's room and says, “You need to come down. We have to talk to you. It's important.”
Mariam is informed that she has a suitor, a forty-five-year-old shoemaker from Kabul named Rasheed. The three wives do all they can to convince Mariam that “she may not get another opportunity this good.” When Mariam tells them she does not want to marry this man, the wives tell her she cannot stay in their house for the rest of her life. When the girl pleads for her father's help, Jalil can only say, “God—it, Mariam, don't do this to me.” When they are finished talking, Mariam is locked in her room.
The next morning, Mariam marries Rasheed in a brief ceremony. A mirror is passed beneath her veil so she is able to see her face, which she finds “not pretty but, somehow, not unpleasant to look at either.” The same mirror allows Mariam her first glimpse of Rasheed. When Jalil walks Mariam to the bus that will take her to her new home in Kabul, she tells him that she never knew he was ashamed of her until now. She says, “It ends here for you and me. Say your good-byes.”
Mariam is shown around her new home. Located in Deh-Mazang, the home is larger than the kolba she had grown up in, but much smaller and less grand than Jalil's home. When Mariam begins crying, Rasheed tells her to stop, that he cannot stand the sound of a woman crying. She is relieved to discover that she has her own room.
Mariam stays in bed for most of the first several days in her new home. After a week, Rasheed tells her that it is time to unpack her suitcase and start behaving like his wife. The next morning Mariam unpacks, cleans the house, and sets about preparing dinner. Rasheed is pleased with the meal, which sends a thrill of pride through Mariam. But the pleasure is short-lived. Rasheed gives Mariam a sky blue burqa and tells her that he believes very strongly that “a woman's face is her husband's business only.”
Rasheed helps Mariam put on the burqa because she has never worn one before. She practices walking around in it in her room, then she and Rasheed travel by bus to Shar-e-Nau Park in Kabul. They stroll the park, and Mariam eats in her first restaurant, enjoys her first ice cream. That night, Rasheed comes into her room and has sex with her for the first time.
While Rasheed is away, Mariam finds a gun, pornographic magazines, and photos of his dead first wife and son in his dresser. Although startled and upset at first, she ultimately decides that he is a man with the needs of a man. She recognizes that he, too, has had a hard life and begins to feel a certain kinship with him. She tells herself they will make good companions after all.
Mariam finds out she is pregnant. Rasheed, convinced the child is a boy, begins building a crib and buying boy's clothing. Although Mariam wishes he would not pin all his hopes on a boy, she is consumed with happiness. She prays that God not let “all this good fortune slip away from her.” On her first visit to a bathhouse, Mariam begins to bleed. A visit to the doctor reveals that her miscarriage is “God's will.”
Mariam is surprised by the grief she feels for the lost baby. Rasheed behaves differently toward her after the miscarriage. She tells him she would like to have a burial, say a few prayers, but Rasheed tells her it is idiotic. He tells her to do it if she thinks it will make her feel better, but that he will not be involved. Mariam buries the child with the suede coat Rasheed bought for it in the yard.
It is April 1978 and Mariam and Rasheed have been married for four years. In that time, she has suffered seven miscarriages and Rasheed has turned against her. Rasheed makes Mariam chew a mouthful of pebbles and says, “Now you know what your rice tastes like. Now you know what you've given me in this marriage. Bad food, and nothing else.” Mariam breaks two of her teeth.
Part Two—Chapter 16
Part Two begins in the spring of 1987 in Kabul. Laila is now nine years old. She is a beautiful, intelligent, blond, green-eyed girl who adores her father. He tells Laila that getting an education is the most important thing, and that after the war Afghanistan will need its women as much as its men. She knows he will not marry her off at a young age, for which she is grateful. He has worked in a bread factory since the communists fired him from his teaching job.
Khadim, a neighborhood bully, taunts Laila and shoots her with urine fired from a water pistol. The reader learns that Laila's mother, Mammy, is depressed. She spends most of her time in her darkened room, in bed, surrounded by photos of her sons Ahmad and Noor who have been off fighting the war with the Soviets for years.
Tariq, Laila's best friend, finally returns from the war. He and Laila share dinner with his parents then go upstairs to his room to play cards. Later, she tells him what Khadim had done to her while he was away. When Tariq sees Khadim in the street later, he beats the boy with his artificial leg. At home, Laila's father helps her with her homework and the reader learns that he feels that the one thing the communists had done right was insist that women get an education. A stranger comes to the door with news.
The stranger tells Laila's parents that Ahmad and Noor have been killed. The next day, the day of the fatiha, both Laila and her father are shunned by the mourning women who come to take care of Mammy. Laila finds it hard to feel her mother's loss because she never really knew her brothers.
Mammy wears black and stays in bed all day, leaving Laila to care for the house and the meals for herself and her father. Laila wishes her mother would notice that she is still alive. When prompted, Mammy admits that she does think about killing herself, but wants to be alive “the day the mujahideen come to Kabul in victory.”
Babi takes Tariq and Laila on a day trip to see the Buddha carvings at Bamiyan, “a thriving Buddhist center until it fell under Islamic Arab rule in the ninth century.” As they look over the Bamiyan Valley, Babi tells Laila about the times he brought her mother there. He confesses that he is having a hard time dealing with his sons' deaths, but that he is grateful for Laila every day. He admits to thinking about leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan, or California, and talks about what they would do there.
This chapter begins on a cold day in January 1989. Eleven-year-old Laila, her parents, and Hasina gather with other spectators to watch one of the last Soviet convoys exit the city. Later, Laila and Tariq go to the movies and become embarrassed when the characters on the screen share a passionate kiss. Afterward, Laila cannot make herself look Tariq in the eye.
Three years pass. As the Soviet Union crumbles, Mammy waits “for her sons' enemies to fall.” That day comes in April, when Afghan leader Najibullah surrenders and the jihad comes to an end. The next day, Mammy “rose from bed a new woman.” For the first time in five years, she puts on a blue, not black, dress and begins cleaning the house and cooking. She tells Laila to invite their neighbors over for a party the next day. She then warns her that her friendship with Tariq, now that they are older, may make people talk. At the party the next day, Laila tries not to look at Tariq, but his mother catches her stealing a glance. Tariq and Laila sneak away from the party and Tariq tells her he only has eyes for her. Within days, the mujahideen, “armed to the teeth but now lacking a common enemy,” find an enemy in each other. Rockets begin raining down on Kabul. Mammy changes back into black and returns to her bed.
Rocket blasts become common. Laila rarely goes out, but when she does Tariq accompanies her. They share their first kiss. As the fighting intensifies and break-ins, executions, rapes, and murders become more common, Babi tries to convince Mammy to leave Kabul. She refuses to go, saying the fighting is only temporary. Babi forbids Laila to go to school and takes on the duty of teaching her at home. A bomb kills Giti.
Tariq and his family decide to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan. When he tells her they plan on leaving the next day, Laila becomes very upset. She understands why they must leave, but feels he is abandoning her. They make love and Tariq asks Laila to marry him. She refuses, not wanting to abandon her father. He tells her he loves her and then Laila makes him leave.
Three days after Laila is almost killed, Mammy finally agrees to leave Kabul. Laila is overjoyed to find out they will be going to Pakistan to apply for visas. Three days later, as Laila waits for the taxi that will take her and the family's belongings to a pawnshop, a bomb hits the house.
Part Three—Chapter 27—Mariam
Mariam and Rasheed care for Laila for the first several weeks after the rocket blast destroyed her home and killed both of her parents. Laila is visited by Abdul Sharif, a man she does not know, a month after the blast.
Abdul Sharif sits across from Laila and tells the story of how he came to find her. A serious illness had sent him to a special hospital ward, the same ward where Tariq was sent after a rocket hit the truck he was riding in. They got to know one another and Abdul learned of Tariq's feelings for Laila. Abdul promised to find Laila and tell her that Tariq loved and missed her. Then Tariq died. After Abdul tells her the bad news, Laila finds she can barely move.
Rasheed goes out of his way to charm Laila, which makes Mariam think he may be planning to marry the girl. When she confronts him, she finds her suspicions are correct. She tells him she will not allow it, but Rasheed points out all the reasons why it is in Laila's best interest to accept his proposal. She is penniless, homeless, without family. She has no one to protect her from rapists and murderers and she cannot continue living with Mariam and Rasheed without becoming his wife. Laila agrees to the arrangement.
The reader learns that Laila agrees to marry Rasheed because she is pregnant with Tariq's baby. She would rather sacrifice her life for her child, for the part of Tariq that is still alive inside her, than risk she and the baby's fate in a Pakistani refugee camp. After they marry and make love, Laila pricks her finger and lets it bleed on the sheets to make Rasheed think he married a virgin.
One night, over dinner, Rasheed explains how he wants the women, especially Laila, to behave. She is never to leave the house without his company, and she is to wear a burqa on those occasions. A few days later, Mariam tells Laila she will not be her servant, that she has no intention of being thrown out. She lays out her own house rules and tells Laila “I have no use for your company.” She has never spoken this way to anyone, and although it should have been exhilarating to state her will in this way, Laila's tears dampen the effect.
Winter comes to Kabul and Laila tells Rasheed she is pregnant. Fighting continues to rage in the city. Laila spends the winter—the year is 1992—cleaning the house, aimlessly wandering through it, or watching the snow fall from her bed. She tries to get used to wearing a burqa and she and Mariam have their first real fight. She feels the baby kick for the first time.
It is now the spring of 1993. Laila gives birth to a daughter and names her Aziza, the Cherished One. The baby's cries enrage Rasheed, and he and Laila begin arguing regularly. Laila falls from his favor, and Mariam feels pity for the girl. One night, after Laila refuses to sleep with Rasheed, he bursts into Mariam's room, threatens to beat her, and accuses her of teaching Laila how to deny him. Laila comes to Mariam's rescue and convinces Rasheed not to beat her.
Rasheed asks about Laila's relationship with Tariq. He wants to know if they ever did “anything out of order.” Laila has been stealing money from him and hiding it in a pouch sewed into the lining of her coat. She plans to run away next spring to Peshawar, Pakistan. Mariam leaves a pile of baby girl clothes outside Laila's door. That night, Laila thanks Mariam for the clothes and the two women end up drinking tea and eating halwa together while Rasheed sleeps. They are no longer enemies.
Mariam and Laila begin doing their chores together, and a pleasant companionship grows between them. Mariam falls in love with Aziza, who returns her affections. In January of the next year (1994), the fighting in Kabul escalates. “The streets became littered with bodies, glass, and crumpled chunks of metal. There was looting, murder, and, increasingly, rape, which was used to intimidate civilians and reward militiamen.” The fighting forces Rasheed to stay home for a week, which sours the pleasant atmosphere the women have come to enjoy in his absence. One day that winter, Mariam tells Laila the story of her life, of her upbringing, her father, her miscarriages. Laila responds by telling Mariam that Tariq is really Aziza's father. She invites her to come along when she and Aziza leave that spring. Mariam reflects on the fact that the years have not been kind to her, but that she may still have a new life waiting ahead.
Laila, Mariam, and Aziza attempt to leave Afghanistan. They find a man willing to accompany them on their bus ride to Peshawar, but discover too late that he has turned them in to the mujahideen. They are escorted to the police station where they are interrogated before being taken back home. Upon their return, Rasheed beats Laila and locks her and Aziza in Mariam's room. Then he beats Mariam and locks her in the shed. He covers the window to Mariam's room and seals all the cracks so Laila and Aziza are left in total darkness. He keeps his wife and daughter locked up for three days, in searing heat with no food or water. At the end of three days, Rasheed opens the door to the bedroom, threatens Laila, and then kicks her violently before leaving.
Chapter 37—Mariam—September 1996
Two and a half years have passed since Laila and Mariam tried to leave. On September 27, 1996, the Taliban comes to Kabul. The city celebrates, believing the guerrilla force will bring peace and order. The next day, trucks carrying armed bearded men in black turbans overrun Kabul. A message is repeated on the radio and over loudspeakers perched atop mosques. The same message is printed on flyers and tossed into the street. It outlines the laws that will be enforced by the Taliban in the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The laws, among other things, forbid women to leave their homes, make eye contact with men, or work.
Laila is relieved that Babi never had to see the Taliban's destruction of paintings, books, and poetry, or the forced closings of the university, all cinemas and bookstores, and Kabul's ancient music ghetto. Rasheed insinuates that Aziza is not his child and tells Laila that he would be well within his rights to give her away. Laila feels a child growing inside her. She comes close to aborting it with a metal bicycle spoke, but decides against it.
Chapter 39—Mariam—September 1997
The only hospital in Kabul that treats women lacks clean water, oxygen, electricity, and medication, but Mariam is forced to take Laila there to deliver her baby. When Laila is finally examined, it is discovered that her baby is in the breech position. She is forced to undergo a caesarean section without the aid of anesthesia.
Chapter 40—Laila—Fall 1999
After two years of drought, food supplies are low, and wells are drying up. Laila's son, Zalmai, is two, Mariam is forty, and Aziza is six. Rasheed dotes on his son and spends most of his time with him. He goes into debt buying expensive things, including a television, for Zalmai and suggests sending Aziza to beg in the streets to bring in extra income. Laila vehemently opposes the suggestion, which prompts a fight that ends with Rasheed jamming the barrel of his gun into her mouth.
It is the summer of 2000 and the third and worst year of the drought. Rasheed's shoe shop burns down and the family is forced to sell everything. When the money runs out, death from starvation becomes a very real possibility. Rather than watch the children die, Mariam decides to try and reach her father by telephone. She learns he died in 1987.
Aziza is sent to an orphanage so she will be fed and clothed. Rasheed refuses to accompany Laila to visit Aziza every day, so Laila's life begins to revolve around finding ways to see Aziza. Her daughter begins to exhibit signs of stress, including a stammer, and Laila, suffering from another beating by Rasheed, is amazed at the healing power of the human body. Tariq appears at Laila's door.
Mariam remembers why the man at the Continental—the place where she had made the call to Herat—looked so familiar to her that day. It was the same man who called himself Abdul Sharif nine years ago, the one who gave Laila the news of Tariq's death.
Tariq and Laila talk downstairs while Mariam takes care of Zalmai upstairs. Tariq fills Laila in on the last ten years of his life, including the year he spent in the Pakistani refugee camp where his father died, why he committed the crime that landed him in a Pakistani prison for seven years, and how he came to live in Murree, Pir Panjal, Pakistan. Laila tells him about their child Aziza and that she is the reason she married Rasheed. They agree to visit their daughter the next day while Rasheed is at work. That night over dinner, Zalmai tells Rasheed, “Mammy has a new friend.” Rasheed knows immediately that it is Tariq.
Rasheed locks Zalmai in his room upstairs before coming after Laila with his belt. He beats her mercilessly until Mariam starts clawing at his face and scalp, trying to get him to stop. When he turns his attention to Mariam, Laila smashes a glass against his face. While Rasheed chokes Laila, fully intending to kill her, Mariam fetches a shovel. “She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life.”
Laila comes to and realizes what has happened. The next morning Mariam tells Laila to go and visit Aziza. Laila realizes her friend will not be there when she returns home. She pleads with the woman, but Mariam says, “For me, it ends here. There's nothing more I want. Everything I'd ever wished for as a little girl you've already given me. You and your children have made me so very happy.” Then she packs light lunches for the children and says goodbye to Laila and Zalmai. Laila never sees Mariam again.
Mariam spends ten days in the Walayat women's prison before she is executed. She feels no regret in her final moments. “It was not so bad, Mariam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.”
Part Four—Chapter 48
Tariq and Laila marry the day they arrive with Aziza and Zalmai in Murree. Laila is happy in her new home, but it is not an easy happiness. She and Aziza are tormented by bad dreams.
Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan resistance leader, is killed. Laila “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.” Two days later, a television in the hotel lobby shows the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Laila learns that President Bush has declared war with Afghanistan.
Although Laila is happy with her life in Murree and grateful for its comfort and tranquility, she feels she needs to return home to Kabul. “She has become plagued by restlessness. She hears of schools built in Kabul, roads repaved, women returning to work, and her life here, pleasant as it is, grateful as she is for it, seems…insufficient to her. Inconsequential.” When she tells Tariq she wants to return, he tells her he would follow her to the end of the world.
On their way back to Kabul, the family stops in Herat. Laila travels alone to Gul Daman and finds Hamza Faizullah. She tells him that Mariam has died and he takes her to the kolba where Mariam grew up. Before Laila leaves, Hamza gives her a box he has been saving for Mariam. Back at her hotel, Laila finds a videocassette, an envelope, and a burlap sack inside the box. The video is a recording of Pinocchio, the envelope contains a letter from Jalil to Mariam, and the sack contains her share of inheritance.
Chapter 51—April 2003
Kabul's drought has ended and mud is everywhere. Aziza is ten and Zalmai is almost six. Kabul has changed, but it still has its problems. Laila works as a teacher at the orphanage where, two years before, she left Aziza. A Kabul newspaper has recently published a story about the orphanage and the renovations Laila, Tariq, and the orphanage director Zaman have made to it. Laila is pregnant again.
Ahmad is Laila's eldest brother. He was killed while fighting the Soviets. He and his younger brother, Noor, were away fighting so long that Laila feels she does not know him.
Aziza is Tariq and Laila's daughter, who is raised as Rasheed and Laila's daughter. Because he suspects she may not be his, Rasheed consistently threatens to send Aziza away. Finally, when the family is threatened with starvation, Laila is convinced that Aziza is better off in an orphanage. Although she is fed and clothed there, Aziza displays signs that all is not well. When Aziza learns the truth of her parentage, she is relieved to know Tariq is her father.
Babi is Laila's father and Fariba's, or Mammy's, husband. A sheepish, bookish, intelligent man, Babi adores his daughter. After the communists fire him from his high school teaching job, he finds work in a bread factory. The most important thing in his life, after her safety, is his daughter's schooling. He believes that after the war, Afghanistan will need educated women as much as educated men, because a society has no chance for success if its women are uneducated. He and Mammy are killed when their house is bombed.
Hamza Faizullah is Mullah Faizullah's russet-haired son. He welcomes Laila when she visits Herat. He is saddened to know that Mariam has died. He takes Laila to see Mariam's kolba and gives her the box he had been saving for Mariam.
Mullah Faizullah is an elderly village Koran tutor. He taught Nana the Koran when she was a girl, and does the same for Mariam. More than just her teacher, Mullah Faizullah is Mariam's champion and mentor.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns was released in an unabridged version on audiocassette by Simon & Schuster Audio in 2007. It is narrated by Atossa Leoni.
Giti is one of Laila's two best friends. A tightly wound, scowling, bony little girl as a child, Giti blossoms into a flirtatious young woman. She is killed when a stray rocket hits her on her way home from school.
Hasina is one of Laila's two best friends. She is older than Laila and Giti because she failed the third grade once and the fourth grade twice. She is not very accomplished in school, but she is clever and talkative. Her family arranges for her to marry her cousin. He moves them to Frankfurt, Germany, and Laila and Giti never see her again.
Habib is the leader of Gul Daman, the village closest to Nana and Mariam's kolba. He brings presents to Nana and Mariam when he comes to visit.
Muhsin is one of Jalil's sons. He suggested the location of Nana and Mariam's kolba and helped his father build it.
Ramin is one of Jalil's sons. He, along with Mariam's other half-brothers Muhsin and Far-had, push a wheelbarrow full of supplies up to Nana and Mariam's kolba once a month.
Farhad is one of Jalil Khan's sons. He helps Jalil build the kolba where Nana and Mariam live.
Jalil is Mariam's father. One of Herat's wealthiest men, Jalil has three wives, ten children, and a number of successful businesses. Nana was his maid when he got her pregnant with Mariam. He visits Mariam every Thursday while she is growing up, but when Nana dies, he refuses to take his illegitimate daughter into his home. When he marries her off to Rasheed, Mariam cuts off all ties with him.
Laila is the daughter of Hakim and Fariba. As intelligent as she is beautiful, Laila is relieved to know her family will not try and marry her off at an early age. She is very proud of her father and determined to pursue her education in the same way he pursued his. She loves Tariq and ends up becoming pregnant with his child. She does not discover this fact until after Tariq has fled Afghanistan for Pakistan and Laila's parents are killed in a bomb attack. For the sake of her and Tariq's child, she agrees to marry Rasheed. She becomes close to Mariam, Rasheed's first wife, and is a loving mother to Aziza and Zalmai. After Rasheed is killed, Laila and Tariq are free to marry. Laila becomes a teacher, like her father, and dedicates herself to helping to improve Kabul.
Mammy is Babi's wife and Laila's mother. She is a light-skinned, plump woman with a good-humored, almost perfectly round face in the beginning of the book. Later, after years of missing her sons who are off fighting the Soviets, she is described as ferocious, indomitable, pacing, and ranting. She spends most of Laila's life in bed, brooding the fate of her sons and her country. She is determined to stay in Kabul, despite the growing violence, because she is convinced peace is coming. She is finally persuaded to leave, but a bomb attack on their house kills she and Babi before they have a chance to flee.
Mariam is Nana and Jalil's daughter. Because she is a harami, an illegitimate child, she is forced to live an isolated existence in a kolba with her mother for the first fifteen years of her life. She fantasizes about living in her father's house and becoming a legitimate member of his family. She blames herself for her mother's death and comes to realize that her fantasies about living with her father will never come true. Mariam is devastated when he marries her off to a man thirty years her senior and sends her to Kabul to live with him. She suffers seven miscarriages and is scorned by her husband, Rasheed. Her life becomes less difficult after she and Laila, Rasheed's second wife, and Laila's children become close. Both Mariam and Laila suffer regular beatings by their husband until Mariam kills him. Before she is executed for her crime, she realizes that she has loved and been loved back, which gives her life legitimacy.
Nana is Mariam's mother. She is the daughter of a stone-carver and Jalil's former housekeeper. She has a lazy eye and a rotting front tooth. Nana was happy once, until a seizure, or what she calls a jinn, scared away her would-be husband and all other suitors. She lives with Mariam, her illegitimate daughter, in a small kolba built in a clearing on the outskirts of Gul Daman. She hangs herself when Mariam leaves to find her father.
Noor is Laila's older brother. He was killed while fighting the Soviets. He and his older brother, Ahmad, were in the army for the majority of Laila's childhood. She feels like she knew them only through her mother's grief over their absence.
Rasheed is the husband of Mariam and Laila. He marries Mariam after her mother kills herself. At the time, he is forty-five and she is fifteen. He had a wife and son, but they died many years previous. Rasheed is a successful shoemaker with his own shop in Kabul. When Mariam fails to give him a child, he turns on her. He beats her regularly and forces her to wear a burqa whenever they go out. After Laila's parents are killed, Rasheed takes the neighbor girl in and eventually marries her, too. He turns on her when she gives him a daughter instead of a son. He makes sure Laila believes Tariq is dead and is overjoyed when she gives birth to a son. He tries to kill her when he finds out she has spent the evening with Tariq. Mariam kills him with a shovel to keep him from killing Laila.
Salim is an older Pakistani man Tariq befriends in prison. He sends out Tariq's queries about his mother and gently tells Tariq that she has died. When Tariq is released from prison, Salim gives him his brother's address and phone number so that he will have a place to go and a job.
Sayeed is Salim's brother and the owner of a small hotel in Murree. He gives Tariq a job and allows him to start his life in Murree. A soft-spoken, mannered man, Sayeed gives Tariq the money he needs to buy wedding rings for himself and Laila and arranges everything for the ceremony.
Shanzai is Laila's teacher. The students call her Khala Rangmall, or Auntie Painter, after the way she slaps her students. She does not cover herself or wear make-up or jewelry and does not let her female students cover themselves. She calls Laila Inqilabi Girl, or Revolutionary Girl, because she was born the night of the April coup of 1978.
Tariq is Laila's oldest friend and the father of Aziza. He lost a leg in the war and has an artificial one. As children, he and Laila play a nightly game that involves signaling one another from their rooms with flashlights. They grow closer as they get older and he makes it clear that he loves her. When he tells her his family is leaving for Pakistan, Laila becomes very upset and they end up making love. He spends a year in a Pakistani refugee camp where his father dies. After his father's death, Tariq devotes himself to finding a job and providing for his mother. He commits an
illegal act to earn money, is caught, and is imprisoned for seven years. He starts a new life in Pakistan before finding Laila again. They are finally able to marry after Rasheed dies.
Mohammad Tariq Walizai
Zalmai is Laila and Rasheed's son. Laila comes close to aborting the child, but finds she loves him just as much as Aziza and regrets ever considering ending his life. The boy adores his father, who spoils him, but learns to accept Tariq after a while.
Zaman is the kind director of the orphanage to which Aziza is sent. He makes a point of teaching the children something everyday, including reading, writing, geography, science, or history. He promises Laila that Aziza will be fed and clothed and tells her that she should not feel bad about leaving Aziza with him. When Laila and Tariq return to Kabul after living in Pakistan, they help Zaman renovate and improve the orphanage.
The Treatment of Women
One of the most pervasive themes running through A Thousand Splendid Suns is that of the treatment of women in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Afghanistan. Over the course of the story, the reader is introduced to a number of women in various positions of power, but Hosseini makes clear that, for the most part, Afghan women in contemporary society are widely considered second-class citizens.
In the novel's first chapter, Mariam's mother, Nana, tells her, “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” Her mother's lesson turns prophetic by novel's end, at least as far as Mariam is concerned. In the meantime, Mariam's fate is determined after her mother dies. She is married off, at the age of fifteen, to Rasheed, a forty-something shoemaker from Kabul because her status as harami, or bastard, bars her from becoming a legitimate member of her father's family. The first time she hears the word she is not “old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami, who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born.” Her father's rejection of her is the first of many injustices she suffers due to her gender.
When Mariam fails to provide Rasheed with a child she becomes nothing more than a burden to him. She finds living with his constant insults and ridicule hard to tolerate,
but after four years of marriage, Mariam saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid. And Mariam was afraid. She lived in fear of his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks.
Raised to believe in her worth, beauty, and intelligence, Laila ultimately suffers the same fate as Mariam. After her parents are killed and she discovers she is pregnant with her lover's child, Laila is forced to become Rasheed's second wife. He treats her like a queen until she gives birth to a girl. Then Laila becomes as burdensome to Rasheed as Mariam. When he isn't threatening to get rid of the little girl, he is beating his wives, forcing them to wear burqas when they leave the house, and generally tormenting them. When he discovers they have tried to run away, a common practice that is also considered a crime, he nearly kills them both.
Things become worse after the Taliban takes control of the city. They forbid women to leave their homes, make eye contact with men, or speak unless spoken to. If they do any of these things, they may be severely beaten. Laila suffers these beating regularly when she tries to visit her daughter without Rasheed. “One day, a young Talib beat Laila with a radio antenna. When he was done, he gave a final whack to the back of her neck and said, ‘I see you again, I'll beat you until your mother's milk leaks out of your bones.”’ On another occasion, after another beating, Laila's “lip was swollen, and her tongue kept poking the empty pocket of the lower incisor Rasheed had knocked loose two days before. Before Mammy and Babi had died and her life turned upside down, Laila never would have believed that a human body could withstand this much beating, this viciously, this regularly, and keep functioning.”
Education is a recurring theme throughout A Thousand Splendid Suns. When Mariam asks permission to go to school, her mother replies, “What's the sense in schooling a girl like you? It's like shining a spittoon. And you'll learn nothing of value in those schools. There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school. Look at me…only one skill. And it's this: tahamul. Endure.” Mariam does learn to endure, despite the fact that she is never taught anything more than what her friend and Koran teacher imparts upon her: the five daily namaz prayers and recitations from the Koran. Laila, on the other hand, is taught to prize her intellect. Her father, a talented and passionate teacher, encourages his daughter to dedicate herself to her studies. He helps her with her homework every night and usually gives her some of his own.
This was only to keep Laila a step or two ahead of her class, not because he disapproved of the work assigned by the school—the propaganda teaching notwithstanding. In fact, Babi thought that the one thing the communists had done right—or at least intended to—ironically, was in the field of education, the vocation from which they had fired him. More specifically, the education of women.
His interest in her education affects his decision to take her and Tariq to see the Buddhist carvings in Bamiyan one afternoon. While taking in the valley below, Babi says,
The silence. The peace of it. I wanted you to experience it. But I also wanted you to see your country's heritage, children, to learn of its rich past. You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you just have to see and feel.
The kind orphanage director, Kaka Zaman, is also a passionate proponent of education for all. He cannot help the dire conditions of the institution, the bare rooms, windows covered in plastic, rising smell of urine, and weedy yard, but he makes an effort to improve the children's minds. “Aziza said Kaka Zaman made it a point to teach them something every day, reading and writing most days, sometimes geography, a bit of history or science, something about plants, animals. ‘But we have to pull the curtains,’ Aziza said, ‘so the Taliban don't see us.”’ In case of an inspection, Zaman has balls of yarn and knitting needles ready. If the Taliban comes snooping, he tells the children to put the books away and pretend to knit.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Using library resources and the Internet, research the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. What significant events led to the invasion? Where did the majority of fighting take place? What caused the Soviets to eventually withdraw? How did the invasion impact Afghan life? Use your findings to write an essay that explores the invasion and its place in Afghanistan's history.
- Imagine what it was like for Afghan women to have to adjust to the laws enforced by the Taliban. What do you think it was like for women who were used to working to quit their jobs and stay inside every day? How would you feel if you could not go out in public without a male relative escort? Write a paper that details your thoughts and feelings about these repressive laws and how you might react to them.
- After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Muslims started receiving widespread negative attention in this country. Think about why this might be. What can be done to replace the negative stereotypes that have become common since the attacks? List your findings in a paper and provide at least three tangible methods to end the negative stereotyping of Muslims.
- Despite their differences, Mariam and Laila become devoted, lifelong friends. In the history of literature and film, a number of such unlikely friendships and marriages have become famous. Think of three unlikely friendships and write a paper about them. How are the two individuals alike or different? What brings them together? How do they maintain their relationship despite their differences?
Mariam, one of two primary characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns represents a literary figure known as the antihero. Defined as a central character who lacks traditional heroic qualities, who is unable to commit to any ideals, and who feels helpless in a world over which she has no control, the antihero accepts her position as social outcast. As a harami, Mariam is a born outcast. Forced to live on the outskirts of a village in a clearing far from other people, she accepts her lot and does not attempt to change it. Even when she goes in search of her father, she intends to return home. The crime she commits that leads to her execution may be considered by some to be heroic, but she might argue that she was only doing what had to be done to save her and Laila's lives.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is filled with interior monologue, a narrative technique in which characters' thoughts are revealed in a way that appears to be uncontrolled by the author. Aimed at revealing the inner self of the character, this technique works particularly well in a novel about Afghan women trapped by political and domestic circumstance. Because the primary characters are unable to voice their thoughts and feelings much of the time, the interior monologues give the author a mechanism that reveals their psyches to the reader.
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
In 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, sending over one hundred thousand soldiers to expand Soviet influence in Asia, preserve the communist government that had been established in the early 1970s, and protect their interests in the country from Iran and Western nations. They installed a puppet leader, but were met with fierce resistance by fighters called mujahideen. These resistance fighters viewed the Christian or atheist Soviet control of Afghanistan as an affront to Islam and their traditional culture. They proclaimed a jihad, or holy war, on the Soviets, which was supported by the Islamic world. Using weapons taken from the Soviets or provided by the United States, the mujahideen employed guerrilla tactics against the Soviets, attacking and raiding quickly before disappearing into the mountains. This type of fighting caused great destruction and prompted the Soviets to try and eliminate rural civilian populations believed to house and feed the mujahideen. Soviet bombings destroyed entire villages, irrigation systems, and crops, which left millions dead, homeless, or starving. Refugee camps around Peshawar, Pakistan, attracted staggering numbers of Afghans seeking shelter. These camps quickly became overcrowded, unsanitary, and insufficiently supplied sources of crime and disease.
The invasion elicited a powerful response from the international community. The United Nations voted to condemn it and repeatedly called on the USSR to pull out of the region, while the Arab world provided relief aid and money to the mujahideen. In 1989, ten years after the invasion, the Soviets withdrew their troops.
The Rise of the Taliban
The mujahideen set up a new government after the Soviet withdrawal, but various factions within it began fighting one another. Afghanistan became a collection of territories held by competing warlords as a result. Groups of taliban, or religious students, became loosely organized during the civil war, but did not emerge as a united force until 1994 when they fought off rival mujahideen and warlords and took control of the city of Kandahar. Two years later they captured the city of Kabul, which marked the beginning of their surprising advance.
The Taliban was popular among Afghans tired of anarchy and conflict. They were relieved when the devout Taliban came in and took the place of corrupt and often brutal warlords, restored peace, and, in some cases, resumed commerce. This order came about under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar and the institution of a very strict interpretation of Islamic law. Afghan soccer stadiums began hosting public executions and punishments; television, music, and the Internet were banned; men were required to wear beards or face public beatings; and frivolous activities, like kite-flying, were banned. Most striking were the Taliban's rules for women. Girls were prohibited from going to school and women were barred from working outside the home or leaving home without being accompanied by a male relative. Those who did not obey the laws risked being beaten. Women caught wearing fingernail polish risked having their fingers chopped off.
The Taliban managed to reunite most of Afghanistan, but was unable to end the civil war. During its rule, access to clean water, employment, and food declined. A lingering drought and harsh winter at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001 prompted widespread famine and an increased flow of refugees to Pakistan. After the Taliban harbored terrorists responsible for the deadly September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, an international coalition, led by the U.S., invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government. On December 22, 2001, Afghan tribal leader Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's interim chairman of the government. In January 2002, the Taliban officially recognized the interim government.
Afghanistan After the Taliban
Many of the Taliban's most radical leaders and supporters fled the country or were killed or taken prisoner, but countless other former Taliban members returned home and continued to work to promote the organization's goals covertly. Although many changes took place after Karzai was installed as interim leader—women
were once again allowed to show their faces in public and go back to work; television, music, movies, and dancing were no longer outlawed; and public executions and punishments came to a stop—the future of the country remains uncertain.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini's follow-up to his debut success The Kite Runner was called “[a]nother artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer” by the editors of Kirkus Reviews. Barbara Hoffert, in her Library Journal review remarks on the sophomore effort by saying the novel “proves that one can write a successful follow-up after debuting with a phenomenal best seller.” But critics have applauded A Thousand Splendid Suns for more than its status as a strong second novel. In her review in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani writes that Hosseini, “succeeds in making the emotional reality of Mariam and Laila's lives tangible to us, and by conjuring their day-today routines, he is able to give us a sense of what daily life was like in Kabul—both before and during the harsh reign of the Taliban.” She goes on to write, “In the end it is these glimpses of daily life in Afghanistan—a country known to most Americans only through news accounts of war and terrorism—that make this novel, like The Kite Runner, so stirring.” The editors of Kirkus Reviews remark on Hosseini's deft handling of his dark subject matter. “Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination.”
Ann Guidry is a freelance writer and editor. In this essay, she explores how war imposes an equalizing effect on the two main characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
The two main characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns come from vastly different backgrounds. Mariam, the bastard daughter of a successful businessman and his housekeeper, grows up a social outcast forced to live a reclusive existence on the outskirts of a small Afghan village. Her schooling consists of weekly lessons taught by the elderly village Koran teacher. Laila, on the other hand, is raised in the liberal and progressive city of Kabul by an adoring father and a headstrong mother. Her university-educated father insists she receive—and value—a well-rounded education. A generation stands between the two women. Despite their differences, Mariam and Laila form a bond that, under other circumstances, would likely never be realized. The ravages of war serve to equalize these women's experiences and allow them to create a friendship, a family, and an enduring alliance that would not have taken root during peacetime. The relationship demonstrates that money and social connection are of no value in a country that fundamentally disrespects females. It also demonstrates that no amount of brutality or injustice can break the spirit of these strong women.
Laila is born the night the Soviets invade her country. When she is nine, Laila's father tells her, “it's a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan.” He points out that women have always had it hard in Afghanistan, especially in the area along the border with Pakistan, where women have historically been kept under male control and have been given little personal freedom. The Soviet invasion, though unwelcome in every other way, brought with it the idea that women were equal to men. Under Soviet communism, all people are considered equal. The arrival of the Soviets promises a rise in social status for females, better education, equal protection under the law, and better work opportunities. Two years later, Laila and her family watch with trepidation as the last Soviet convoys exit the city; two years after that the mujahideen (Afghan rebels) turn on one another.
The constant rocket blasts and sharp rise in random violence after the defeat of the Soviet Union change Laila's life. Her male friend Tariq must accompany her everywhere for her own protection. Her father withdraws her from school—again, for her own safety. The intertribal struggle produces unspeakable horrors: random executions of entire families, rapes, and mutilations. After Laila is nearly shot and killed, her mother finally agrees to leave Kabul. Before they have a chance, a bomb hits their house and kills Laila's parents. In that blast, whatever small advantages Laila social station may still have provided her are destroyed. She is just a woman alone in a country where women are not valued.
Before they take her in, Laila only knows Rasheed and Mariam as the reclusive neighbors down the street. Before long, though, Rasheed is her husband, and Mariam her older, jealous rival. Laila agrees to marry the old man, but only because she fears what might happen to her unborn child, fathered out of wedlock by her lover, if she does not. She knows well what kind of life would await her in a refugee camp. She would have to care for a newborn baby while living in a tent, with little food or water and no help from friends or family. In all likelihood, the baby would die, and she might, too. Given her options, either marry Rasheed or suffer the consequences in a refugee camp, Laila chooses the former.
Mariam and Laila avoid one another as much as possible, until Laila stops Rasheed from beating the older woman one night. A quiet exchange of words and children's clothes leads to the sharing of tea and an unwavering truce between the women, even as fighting rages between the men throughout the country. They understand that theirs is a shared predicament; as women in Afghanistan, theirs is a reality shared with all Afghan women. They become co-conspirators in a plot to leave Rasheed and their stifled lives in Afghanistan. After they make their attempt to leave and are caught at the bus station and taken into police custody, the interrogating officer says, “You can be imprisoned for running away, I assume you understand that, nay?” They are returned home where Rasheed brutally beats them and threatens their lives if they ever try to leave again. They live, in microcosm, the reality of all women in Afghanistan: they are terrorized and imprisoned by male brutality and authority.
Two and a half years later the Taliban rises to power. Mariam and Laila's lives, which started out so differently have, by this point, dovetailed as a consequence of the civil war and their shared violent experiences as Rasheed's wives. The enforcement of shari'a, or Islamic law, by the Taliban becomes the final equalizing force in their lives. After the soon-to-be ubiquitous bearded men in black turbans (the uniform of the Taliban) announce the new laws that “we will enforce and you will obey”—including one stating that all women must stay inside their homes at all times—Laila expresses her disbelief. But Mariam realizes that the law is simply reinforcing what had already become reality for herself and Laila. What was once a private punishment informed by Islamic tradition has simply now become law. The political and historical tide has shifted and Laila and Mariam, along with every other Afghan woman, is made to endure it.
Under such hopeless circumstances, one might wonder how anyone would find meaning in their lives, or find anything worth living and fighting for. But Laila and Mariam do find meaning and strength, both arising from their innate femaleness and womanhood. The Taliban insists that all women be treated in a segregated women's hospital, but fails to provide this hospital with oxygen, clean water, medication, or electricity. Unfortunately, Laila is forced to go to this grim institution when she experiences difficulty giving birth to her second child. Mariam, who accompanies her friend to the frightening place, has an epiphany while fighting a mob of people, who, like her, are desperately seeking medical attention for their loved ones.
Mariam saw now the sacrifices a mother made. Decency was but one. She thought ruefully of Nana, of the sacrifices that she too had made…. Mariam wished she had been a better daughter to Nana. She wished she'd understood then what she understood now about motherhood.
This realization echoes Laila's thoughts concerning her decision to marry Rasheed:
She knew that what she was doing was dishonorable. Dishonorable, disingenuous, and shameful…. But even though the baby inside her was no bigger than a mulberry, Laila already saw the sacrifices a mother had to make. Virtue was only the first.
The conditions at the hospital, a direct result of the rise of the Taliban, jar Mariam into a realization Laila arrived at years earlier: that an Afghan mother must, in the words of Nana, “endure.” This grim endurance, and the power of motherly love, give Laila and Mariam the power to face many dangers.
When Laila is forced to send Aziza to live in an orphanage, she promises to visit her daughter at every opportunity. Because the Taliban does not allow women to leave their homes without being escorted by a male relative, and Rasheed refuses to accompany Laila except on rare occasions, she risks regular imprisonment and abuse by the Taliban. She is beaten and accosted frequently on her way to the orphanage. Still, Laila endures these beatings from the Taliban—and others from Rasheed who also punishes her for disobeying him—for the sake of her daughter.
In the end, both Mariam and Laila create a kind of happiness for themselves. Mariam loves Laila and her children, and makes the decision to both kill and die for them. As she is about to be executed for Rasheed's murder, she finds a kind of satisfaction with the control she has taken over her fate and a comfort in the knowledge of the good she has done Laila. Laila, though plagued by the memories of her difficult past, finds happiness in marrying Tariq, who returns unexpectedly.
A number of religious, cultural, and societal influences inform the unlikely alliance forged by Mariam and Laila. But the war and the political and historical changes that accompany it do the most to equalize the experiences of these two characters. Had her parents not been killed, Laila would never have married Rasheed and gotten to know Mariam. Had the Taliban not come to power, Mariam might not have been executed. Maybe Rasheed, influenced by the public punishments he goes to witness and the brutally sexist shari'a being enforced all around him, would not have otherwise become so violent. The Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban bring Mariam and Laila together in a profound way. And despite all the restriction on them, both women find a kind of happiness of their own choosing.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- The Kite Runner, published in 2003, is Hosseini's debut novel. Regarded as a cultural phenomenon when it was released, the bestseller gives readers an education about Afghanistan's political turmoil while telling a heartbreaking story about fathers and sons.
- Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, published in 2003, is a nonfiction work by Tehran university professor Azar Nafisi. Nafisi describes reading books banned by the repressive Iranian government with seven of her best female students. Both memoir and literary criticism, the book provides a rare look at daily life as experienced by women living under the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime in revolutionary Iran.
- The Places in Between, published in 2006, is freelance journalist Rory Stewart's nonfiction account of walking across Afghanistan a few months after the Taliban were deposed.
- Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World, Second Edition, published in 1995, is written by journalist Thomas W. Lippman. The author provides an introduction into the Islamic world, its beliefs and practices, the Koran, law, and government in Islamic countries, etc.
Source: Ann Guidry, Critical Essay on A Thousand Splendid Suns, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
In the following essay, Synovitz discusses Hosseini's focus on the plight of Afghan women in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Hosseini's follow-up—a novel called “A Thousand Splendid Suns” whose two protagonists are women—is being released today.
Hosseini gained international acclaim after The Kite Runner was published in 2003.
But the 42-year-old Afghan emigre says that story about the troubled friendship of two boys left a large part of the Afghan story untold: the women's perspective.
Hosseini says he was “on a mission” to portray the plight of Afghan women when he wrote his second novel. In it, Hosseini asks what the world really knows about Afghan women who live behind the veil of the burqa—what their inner lives are like, their thoughts, their hopes, and their dreams.
Hosseini says he wants his readers to lose themselves in the novel's story and characters. But he also hopes they can gain some understanding of the struggles of Afghan women, who live in a male-dominated society where they are routinely denied freedom or dignity.
“There's been so much said and written about Afghanistan, [but] precious little about the inner lives of the people there living in that environment in those conditions,” Hosseini says in a video to promote the book. “And maybe after reading this novel, people will have a little bit more empathy for what happened to Afghans. Particularly the Afghan women, who really, really, I think, suffered the most out of everybody in Afghanistan—especially in the last 15 years.”
As the son of an Afghan diplomat, Hosseini did not experience most of the history that pervades his latest novel.
Hosseini's family left Afghanistan to live in Paris in 1976 when he was 11. In 1980, after the Soviet invasion, the family moved to California, where he attended high school and later studied medicine.
He says the main characters of his new book are not based on any women he knows. But he says they are partly inspired by the stories he heard in Kabul in 2003, when he returned to Afghanistan for the first time.
The title, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a 17th-century Persian poem. But Hosseini says the image that haunted and inspired him was video footage of women being executed by the Taliban at a Kabul sports stadium in 1999.
It is an event that was recreated in his first novel, as well.
Hosseini says his concern over the plight of women has been affected more recently by a visit to Africa early this year, as a U.S. envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There, Hosseini says in a video clip on his promotional website, he met refugee women from Sudan's western region of Darfur.
“The visit certainly changed me in a very profound way,” Hosseini says. “It strengthened my resolve that to see these things and to not do anything is not an option. It's just not acceptable.”
Hosseini says what bothers him most about the Darfur crisis is that the kind of tragic stories told by refugee women from Darfur three years ago are still happening today.
“How do you meet 16-year-old girls who have been raped because they went out to gather firewood for their family, or women who have had their children taken from their arms and shot—and then go on being who you were before? It's just not possible.”
Hosseini's first book—The Kite Runner—is a difficult act to follow. It chronicles the painful fallout from an incident between a Pashtun and a Hazara boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion that led to two decades of political upheaval and civil war.
The hardcover version spent 114 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and the paperback edition remains a bestseller.
Its publisher, River head Books, says it has been translated and published in more than 30 countries.
A film adaptation of The Kite Runner, shot in western China, is set for release in November.
If the advanced reviews are anything to judge by, A Thousand Splendid Suns could seal Hosseini's standing as one of the most successful Afghan-born novelists of modern times.
That is quite a feat for a medical doctor who only took leave from that work two years ago to concentrate on writing—after the success of his first novel.
Praise for Sophomore Effort
Critics from literary publications who received advance copies of the new novel have strong praise for Hosseini.
Kirkus Reviews calls him a “fearless writer” who has created another “artistic triumph and surefire bestseller.” That publication describes A Thousand Splendid Suns as a “fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women.”
Publishers Weekly calls the book “another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil.” It says Hosseini has written a “forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal depotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands, and especially sons—the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status.”
It says the story is a “powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.”
The Library Journal calls the book an “affecting new novel” by an author who “proves that one can write a successful follow-up after debuting with a phenomenal best seller.”
“Hosseini deftly sketches the history of his native land in the late 20th century while also delivering a sensitive and utterly persuasive dual portrait,” the Library Journal notes. “His writing is simple and unadorned, but his story is heartbreaking.”
Another publishing industry journal, Booklist, describes A Thousand Splendid Suns as “unimaginably tragic…A sad and beautiful testament to both Afghani suffering and strength.”
Booklist says the millions of readers who lost themselves in The Kite Runner will not want to miss Hosseini's “unforgettable follow-up.”
Source: Ron Synovitz, “Afghanistan: New Novel by Kite Runner Author Focuses on Women,” in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 22, 2007, p. 50.
In the following review, the editors call A Thousand Splendid Suns a “surefire bestseller.”
This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women.
Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam's childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it's 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It's the eighth year of Soviet occupation—bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul's true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam's objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he'll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it's short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination.
Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.
Source: Editor, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” in Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, p.
Hayes, Laura and Borgna Brunner, “Who are the Taliban: Their History and Their Resurgence,” in Infoplease, 2007, http://www.infoplease.com/spot/taliban.html.
Hoffert, Barbara, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” in Library Journal, March 15, 2007, http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6423126.html.
Kakutani, Michiko, “A Woman's Lot in Kabul, Lower Than a House Cat's,” in The New York Times, May 29, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/books/29kaku.html.
“Khaled Hosseini,” in Contemporary Authors Online, reproduced in Biography Resource Center, 2008 http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns,” in Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, http://www.kirkusreviews.com/kirkusreviews/search/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003549149.
Zhang, Shou and Mike Jacobs, “The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: 1979–1989,” December 2001, http://nhs.needham.k12.ma.us/cur/Baker_00/2002-p4/baker_p4_12-01_mj_sz/.
Ahmed, Akbar S., Resistance and Control in Pakistan, Routledge, 2004.
Resistance and Control in Pakistan, written by one of the world's leading authorities on Islam, examines Muslim society and how it is being affected by modernization.
Ahmed, Akbar S., Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, Brookings Institution Press, 2007.
Ahmed traveled to several Muslim nations with two of his American students—one Islamic, one non-Islamic—with the express hope of improving his understanding of contemporary Muslim society. Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization is his nonfiction examination of that trip.
Mortenson, Greg, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, Penguin, 2007.
Three Cups of Tea describes how the author, an American nurse, founded the Central Asia Institute, an effort that has since constructed more than fifty schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban is a single-volume military history of Afghanistan from ancient times to the war with the United States after September 11.