A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan-American author and physician who shot to fame after he made his debut with the heart-wrenching bestseller The Kite Runner portrays the suffocating image of a war-torn Afghanistan in his latest novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Hosseini’s Kite Runner focused on patriarchal relationships before and during the fall of the monarchy of King Zahir Shah, and the collapse of the country into the hands of the Taliban. A Thousand Splendid Suns builds on this theme, providing a feminine perspective on the era that changed Afghanistan forever.

In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini explores the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, who are separated by a generation but brought together through a series of unfortunate events. The story flows gracefully, as it walks the reader through the metamorphosis of the two protagonists’ relationship from the ugly connotation of co-wives to a bond as strong as that between mother and daughter.

When Mariam’s mother dies, she is forced into an arranged marriage with Rasheed, a mentally disturbed man who is about 30 years her senior. Mariam’s shame at being an only child leads her to embody a passive, rather guilty, temperament. Therefore, she allows her life to be shaped by anyone who offers her a form of “protection.” Her married life with Rasheed is tainted by his unceasing demands and years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse.

Almost two decades later, in the midst of civil war in Kabul, 15-year-old Laila loses her entire family in a bomb blast. Rasheed and Mariam, who live in the same neighborhood as Laila, take her in. Mariam nurses Laila back to health, while Rasheed supports her financially. However, Rasheed has other plans masked behind the charitable figure he pretends to be. In the name of shelter and “preserving” Laila’s reputation in the society, 60-year-old Rasheed marries 15-year-old Laila to satisfy his lust.

The lives of Mariam and Laila are intertwined from then on as the country drifts into a state of turmoil, forming the heart of the novel. The chapters shuffle between Mariam’s and Laila’s perspectives in the form of a third-person narrative, portraying the decay of the Afghanistan they both grew up in. Their domestic lives entangle with the political upheaval in the most unexpected ways, as they represent the strength and perseverance that has failed to touch the global image of the Afghan woman.

Furthermore, Hosseini cuts through the stereotypical image of the Afghan man. While he portrays Rasheed as an, oppressive, and radical Muslim, who is an example of hypocrisy and primarily a love-to-hate villain, he sheds light on his almost saintly and courageous opposite, Tariq, who more closely represents the true Afghan man. He portrays Tariq, Laila’s childhood soulmate, as a compassionate husband and a loving father. Tariq’s Pashtun identity, which is representative of the Pashtun belief in conduct and honor, contradicts his unconditional love and ability to sacrifice.

With simple words and deep characters, Hosseini delves into the lives of Afghan women before and during the reign of the Taliban. By portraying Mariam and Laila as two women with drastically different backgrounds yet similar experiences, Hosseini tells the tale of the many Mariams and Lailas whose lives were overturned by the bloodiest period in the country’s history.