A lot of you may already know Khaled Hosseini from his 2003 novel, The Kite Runner. If you don’t, allow me to refresh your memory – it probably left you crying like a baby. This too might jerk a few tears out of you.
A thousand splendid suns is set in Afghanistan, which happens to be Hosseini’s birthplace. Unlike the Kite Runner, this focuses on the life of women in terror inflicted Afghanistan. To provide a little backstory, our beloved author had just returned to his hometown after 30 years before writing his novel. He was moved by the women he met there. Fragments of real-life stories made their way right into the novel.
Malala Yousafzai- a young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, because she committed the grave sin of wanting an education and attending school. Thankfully, she survived. Her middle eastern counterparts were not so lucky.
Enter Mariam and Laila.
Mariam is an ethnic Pashtun born in Herat, to a Pashtun father. She is the child of Jalil and Nana born out of the wedlock. She suffers shame throughout her childhood because of the circumstances of her birth. Khaled Hosseini described her portrayal: “The key word with Mariam is that she is isolated in every sense of the word. She is a woman who is detached from the day-to-day norms of human existence. Really, she just wants a connection with another human being.” Despite initially resenting Laila, she becomes a “friend and a doting alternative mother” to her through the “common hardship” of being married to the “abusive, psychologically imposing” Rasheed.
Laila is an ethnic Tajik. Born to Hakim and Fariba, she is a beautiful and intelligent girl coming from a family in which the father is university-educated and a teacher. Hosseini states that compared to Mariam, Laila “had a much more fulfilling relationship with her father, her girlfriends and her childhood friend, Tariq. She expected to finish school and is looking for personal fulfillment. These are two very different representations of women.” Her life becomes tied to Mariam’s when she becomes the second wife of Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. This originally draws resentment from Mariam, who “[feels] her territory infringed upon”. Despite this, “Laila becomes her daughter for all practical purposes” due to Mariam’s childlessness, struggles, and abuse they both face during the marriage. Towards the end of the novel, she becomes a schoolteacher at the orphanage where Aziza had stayed.
The book makes some bold and crude statements which hold true not only in the context of the novel but leave a lasting imprint on our minds
“Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
The novel also promotes educating women, which can be seen in the excerpts- “Marriage can wait, education cannot.” and ” A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated…”
Although the novel is filled with themes of hardship, a strong sense of love is expressed throughout the novel. Suppression of women is another dominant issue dealt with. The women do get their liberation in the end though- and it is not pretty. Laila is reunited with her childhood love, Tariq. But Mariam has to sacrifice hers.
The title of the book is taken from a poem written by Saeb-e-Tabrizi, a 17th-century Persian poet from the hauntingly beautiful lines
” one could not count the moons
the shimmer on her roofs
or the thousand splendid suns
that hide behind her walls.”
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Here are some of my other posts you might want to check out 🙂