English Literature
A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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A Shift in Focus: A Review of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the second novel by Khaled Hosseini, acclaimed author of Kite Runner. While his debut work explored the lives of men and boys in Afghanistan, this novel takes a deliberate shift in focus to shed light on the experiences of women and girls in the war-torn country. Through this poignant work of historical fiction, Hosseini delves into the impact of real historical events on the lives of ordinary individuals, giving voice to the ongoing refugee crisis and gender-based violence in Afghanistan.

At the time of writing, Hosseini was a full-time writer and also actively involved in humanitarian work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). His inspiration for the novel came from his experience traveling with the UNHCR, where he witnessed the prevalence of burqas among adult women, a stark contrast to his memories of his childhood in Kabul.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a powerful blend of fact and fiction, as the author weaves real historical figures, organizations, and regimes such as King Zahir Shah, Daud Khan, the Soviets, Mujahideen fighters, and the Taliban into a gripping narrative. While the main characters are fictitious, their story is set against a backdrop of real events.

A Gripping Narrative: Summary of A Thousand Splendid Suns

The novel opens with a vivid memory from Mariam's childhood, where she is called a harami (bastard) by her mother, Nana, after accidentally breaking an heirloom. Through flashbacks, the reader is introduced to Mariam's family background as the illegitimate child of wealthy businessman Jalil and his former maid, Nana.

Mariam's father provides for her and her mother, but keeps their relationship a secret and is ashamed to be seen with them in public. After Nana's death, Mariam is forced to move in with her father and his family, where she is treated with resentment by his wives. Her life takes a drastic turn when she is forced to marry Rasheed, a much older man seeking a young wife to bear him children.

Despite initial kindness, Rasheed's true misogynistic nature and desire for a son become apparent to Mariam. She suffers multiple miscarriages, leading to emotional and physical abuse by her husband. Amidst political turmoil and conflicts, the arrival of their neighbor's daughter, Laila, brings about a new dynamic in Mariam and Rasheed's household. The story then progresses to spring of 1987.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a poignant and heart-wrenching novel that seamlessly weaves together the complex political and social changes in Afghanistan with a gripping narrative. It shines a light on the harsh realities faced by women and girls in the country, making it a must-read for anyone interested in historical fiction or humanitarian issues.

Laila, an energetic nine-year-old, is best friends with Tariq, a neighborhood boy who lost his leg to a Soviet landmine. While her two older brothers fight in the Mujahideen against the Soviets, Laila's mother struggles with depression and constant worry for her sons' safety. As the war rages on, Laila's family is struck by tragedy, pushing her mother into a deeper state of despair. Amidst the chaos, Laila's father makes the difficult decision to relocate the family to America.

Just as the Soviets are driven out of Afghanistan, bringing temporary peace, Laila and Tariq enter their teenage years and begin to develop romantic feelings for each other. However, the Mujahideen factionalizes and the fighting continues. With a vast supply of weapons from Western powers, Kabul once again becomes unsafe. Tragically, one of Laila's friends is killed by a stray rocket, heightening the sense of danger.

Tariq's family plans to flee to Pakistan and Laila's family is set to move to America, but the two young lovers are devastated at the thought of being separated. In a reckless decision, they consummate their relationship. On the day of Laila's family's departure, a rocket strikes their home, claiming the lives of her parents. Left with no one to turn to, Laila finds refuge with her neighbors, Rasheed and Mariam. Meanwhile, Tariq's reported death is later revealed to be a lie.

As Laila navigates her pregnancy and the loss of her family, she reluctantly agrees to marry Rasheed for security. But their life together is anything but what she imagined, especially when the Taliban takes control and imposes strict rules on all Afghans, particularly women and girls. They are forced to wear burqas and are forbidden from leaving their homes without a male relative. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a must-read novel that sheds light on the harsh realities faced by women and girls in Afghanistan, a story that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.

The Journey of Two Strong Women in A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini's novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, takes readers on a journey through Afghanistan's turbulent history and its effects on the lives of women. The story follows Laila, a young woman who grows up during the Soviet occupation and Taliban rule, and Mariam, who becomes her unlikely ally in their shared household dominated by domestic violence.

Initially, Laila's father instills in her the belief that women are equal to men, encouraging her education despite societal and cultural expectations. However, tragedy strikes when she is forced to marry Rasheed, a product of his time and culture, who becomes increasingly abusive as she gives birth to their daughter, Aziza, and later their son, Zalmai. Mariam, who only received a basic education from the local mullah, is also a victim of misogyny, facing social stigma as an illegitimate child and eventually forced into marriage with Rasheed as his second wife.

Rasheed is portrayed as a well-rounded villain, influenced by his rural upbringing where honor and reputation hold great importance. He sees the behavior of his wives as a reflection of his own honor, leading to his abusive tendencies towards them. However, he shows tenderness towards his son, highlighting the double standards and societal expectations placed on men and women.

The novel also explores the effects of misogyny on the lives of women in Afghanistan. Mariam's mother, Nana, is bitter and possessive, driven by her experiences with misogyny and constantly fearing for her daughter's future. Rasheed's forced marriage to Mariam and his actions of controlling and repressing her desires symbolize the oppression and lack of agency faced by women in Afghan society. The Taliban regime's strict restrictions on women, such as compulsory burqa-wearing and punishment for minor infractions, further highlight the theme of misogyny.

Parental relationships also play a significant role in the characters' lives. Laila's father prioritizes her education and encourages her to dream big, while Mariam's mother prevents her from receiving an education and working outside the home. This difference in upbringing has a profound effect on their lives, as Mariam is denied opportunities and faces social stigma as an illegitimate child.

The overarching theme of conflict and change is present throughout the novel, as the characters' lives are constantly affected by political turmoil and regime changes. After Rasheed's shoe shop burns down, plunging the family into poverty, Laila sends Aziza to an orphanage in an act of defiance, refusing to let her daughter beg on the streets. There, Aziza is secretly educated by the orphanage director and eventually reunites with Laila and Mariam when their lives intersect. Tariq, Laila's childhood friend and love interest, also returns to Kabul, leading to a confrontation with Rasheed. In a fit of rage, Rasheed attempts to strangle Laila, but Mariam intervenes and kills him, saving Laila's life. However, Mariam is sentenced to death by a Taliban judge, showcasing the injustice faced by women in their society. Despite this setback, Laila eventually reunites with Aziza and marries Tariq, who becomes a loving father to both of her children.

The story is narrated by an unnamed, omniscient third-person narrator, providing readers with insight into the thoughts and perspectives of various characters. The narrative shifts between Mariam and Laila, two resilient and strong women who navigate the turmoil of Afghanistan's war-torn history, emerging as heroes in their own right. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a powerful and moving novel that sheds light on the effects of misogyny, parental relationships, and conflict on the lives of women in Afghanistan.

The Impact of Social and Political Turmoil on Women in A Thousand Splendid Suns

In Kabul, women's freedoms have been severely restricted as a result of political and cultural constraints. Once able to move around freely and choose their clothing, they are now required to be accompanied by men and wear burqas. This oppression is a central theme in A Thousand Splendid Suns, along with the influence of parental relationships and the consequences of conflict and change.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, written by Khaled Hosseini, sheds light on the struggles faced by women in Afghanistan. It tells the story of two main characters, Mariam and Laila, and the significant changes in their lives as their country transitions through different regimes.

The novel offers a deeper understanding of the experiences of ordinary Afghans during times of turmoil. It highlights the damaging effects of misogyny, the power of parental relationships, and the consequences of social and political conflict on people's lives.

In some areas of Afghanistan, traditional customs rejected the communist government's efforts to emancipate women and establish laws to protect them. This was seen as a threat to long-standing traditions, resulting in tension between rural communities and occupying forces. These dynamics are explained to Laila by Hakim's father in the novel's 18th chapter.

A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Unique Perspective

A Thousand Splendid Suns offers a unique perspective by telling the stories of women and girls in Afghanistan. It provides a global audience with a deeper understanding of the struggles and hardships faced by the ordinary people of Afghanistan.

The novel is a work of historical fiction and not based on a specific true story. However, it reflects the harsh realities faced by women in Afghanistan during times of political and social strife. It also portrays their resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

The Themes of A Thousand Splendid Suns

Misogyny, relationships between parents and children, conflict, and social change are the main themes explored in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Through these themes, the novel highlights the importance of protecting and caring for loved ones and striving to provide them with a better life.

A Thousand Splendid Suns also conveys a powerful message about the fundamental rights of women. It emphasizes the importance of women's education, employment, freedom to choose a partner, and equal participation in society.

The Moral of the Story

A Thousand Splendid Suns teaches readers about the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It also emphasizes the importance of standing up for women's rights and working towards a better and more equal society for all.


  • Collins Dictionary (Collins, 2022).

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