A Thousand Splendid Suns is an outstanding novel published in 2007, written by Khalid Hosseini, who is known as a three-bestselling author. The subjects of this novel reflect on and have similarities in conflict like his previous book, The Kite Runner written in 2003. Khalid narrates the different aspects of afghan woman before and during the soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban.
The time span of the novel from when published, goes back approximately thirty-seven years. Hosseini tells the story of the obedience in the common fate to become co-wives of the same misogynistic, brutal man. He explains the one-sided story of the real-life characters that were brought up in the upheavals of the last forty years. It is a manifestation of the struggle under harsh sociopolitical and economic circumstances which highlights the labeling and diverse issues the afghan woman was once born into. The importance of endurance is not to remain suppressed, instead to stand up against oppressors under harsh conditions.
The book begins with an unhappy little girl named Mariam who is considered a harami, or to American’s, what we would call a bastard child. She was an ethnic Tajik born in Heart in 1959. This little harami lives in an outside hut built by her father Jalil who rejects her in many ways. A few ways would be how he keeps her away from her nine brothers and sisters and only visits her once a week. Her mother Nana was a servant in the household of Jalil. He was a rich and powerful man who took advantage of her and wanted nothing more. Mariam was loved in a very crucial way. Her mother made it known she was the symbol of their shame. Mariam knew she did not have the acceptance of her family and that she never would. Through gritted teeth her mother once told her, “You are a clumsy little harami. This is my reward for everything I endured, an heirloom-breaking, clumsy little harami.” All this because she broke a treasured heirloom once and her mother never forgave her for it.
After her mother’s death Mariam is married off at the age of fifteen to a shoemaker named Rasheed, who was an ethnic Pashtun. Rasheed was a very stern and aggressive man and he emotionally, mentally, and physically abused Mariam. Some days he seemed to have love and endured her, but only if she did as she was told. She could do nothing but take this treatment, though she feared him in every way. Strangely, she felt some connection to him since he was the only person she had, there was no other choice then to love him as her husband. Her mother always told her, “It’s our lot in life, woman like us, we endure and it’s all we have.” The warnings of her mother were the validity of every afghan woman’s life. Soon the story takes a sad turn and the suicide of Nana, Mariam’s mother, is a depiction of the way women are positioned in the afghan society. Women in these times were being blamed for everything with no way out, surviving only on their great strength to endure the inequalities and injustice-ness of their lives.
Mariam and Rasheed lived the life of a semi-normal married couple. They went on walks, he showed her the town, and bought her gifts from time to time. Mariam soon became pregnant and they shared the joy together. Mariam finally felt like she had a purpose and she told herself that her unborn child was the reason she was brought into this world. Not to long into her pregnancy Mariam lost the baby. Once this happened, her and Rasheed disconnected and shut down. They did not speak often, nor did they connect in the little ways they had before. Their home became an unhappy home and Mariam no longer found purpose in her life. For now, she was empty and alone once again.
Over the years Rasheed’s hatred against Mariam grew, no matter what she did to please him it was never enough. Mariam awoke every day to do her wifely duties and made sure she did nothing to upset Rasheed, but he no longer looked at her as his wife. She could not give him what he truly wanted which was children, he viewed her as a failure. She had failed him seven times. After four years of marriage, Mariam was now just a burden and he constantly yelled and ridiculed Mariam. He even made her chew on pebbles until she drew blood and her molars broke because she couldn’t cook rice his way. This was his way of describing how he felt about her cooking. He had no mercy for her and she was nothing but a harami once again.
In these chapters, Hossieni describes the position of a woman in the afghan society as the one’s to reproduce and take care of their husband with very little say. The domestic abuse is not due to lack of abiding by woman to the informal laws and traditions; rather it is the men’s privilege to blame woman for anything irrespective of woman’s fault. At one point in the beginning of the novel, Nana explains to Mariam the future code of conduct, “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. You remember that, Mariam.” I believe Hossieni wrote this to illustrate the way woman are being blamed and treated despite their pure innocence. The society has laws and customs that prohibits woman from arguing with men, let alone the right to end unequal treatment.
Through out the book Hosseini also told the story of another young girl named Laila, an ethnic Pashtun who was born in 1978. Her upbringings weren’t quite the same as Mariam. Laila’s father was university educated and was a teacher. Her faher was very fond of her and they had a close relationship with her, unlike Mariam and her father. Laila and her mother’s relationship was not the best. Her mother did not mistreat her, however she just did not connect very well with her. Through out the chapter’s of Laila’s life, a close relationship blooms between her and her best friend Tariq, an ethnic Pashtun born in 1976. Laila was in love with Tariq, but even though she wanted him to be her husband one day, her family refused because he had a fake leg and they looked poorly at him for being handicap.
Laila’s life was lived through the war and one day during the war her town was wiped out. When this happened most of her family and friends were assumed dead, this including the life of her beloved Tariq. Soon after this, Mariam and Laila’s lives became worse when Rasheed takes Laila as his second wife. Even though Laila and Mariam were unhappy about the marriage they both knew neither of them had a say. Later on Laila shared secrets with Mariam about her pregnancy with her beloved Tariq who was assumed dead. Even though the girls were unpleased about the sharing of the household they soon softened once the baby was born. Since Rasheed was uncomfortable that the baby was not a boy, Mariam and Laila raised the baby with no help from Rasheed. This behavior from a husband was normal in the life for an afghan mother that could not birth a son.
Over the years Mariam and Laila live their lives as Rasheed’s wives, multiple times they try to escape their miserable life. In the afghan society when a woman is seen traveling alone it is a red flag. It is not allowed and they in most parts can be risking their lives. When the women were caught the first time, it was very scary for them as it would be for any afghan woman. Rasheed was not happy and punished both of them harshly for their misbehavior.
A little later Tariq, who Laila thought was dead showed up and in that moment changes everything for Laila. Rasheed found out the child was not his and makes Laila give her up. Laila already hated her life and wanted to escape, now this just gave her more will to leave. Once again Laila and Mariam risk their lives trying to escape with Tariq’s help and try to get Laila and Tariq’s child back. During this, they are caught once again and Mariam risks her own life for the others to escape and is given a public execution. Mariam believed she finally had a purpose once again and this was to help her new friends, known now as family, to live the life that they deserved and always wanted. She wanted no more suffering for neither her or them.
Mariam’s sacrifice was not just for her sake nor her friends, it was to represent the strength for every afghan woman in this society. Hosseini identifies the inequalities within the society and narrates the story of the two young woman who are positioned unequally and treated very poorly. These women live in a country that is ruined by war and religious-political oppression. Women in Afghan society are deprived of many rights and freedoms, especially in the after math of the Mujahideen movement. At one point Hosseini writes, “In a few years, this little girl will be a woman…turbulence that washed over her” (Hosseini 355). The story of Laila and Mariam has proved the endurance of woman. The subsequent public execution of Mariam is reflective of the way woman in most suppressed societies of the world struggle to achieve individual and collective freedom.
The story “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, is not only a narration based on true life situations, instead provides a deeper understanding of the struggle of an afghan woman. In this novel, both religious and political dimensions of the afghan society is depicted. Hosseini greatly emphasizes the role of women providing women with strength to endure and to make it through life with the lack of their fundamental rights as human beings. Though the efforts are not always significant, the endurance of Mariam and Laila, along with the supportive relationship they received from one another gives us hope. Coupled with progressive thinking and women holding up women in strife, there is light at the end of the tunnel for women in these societies.
- Hosseini, Khalid. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Riverhead Books, May 22, 2007.
- Wikipedia contributors. ‘Khaled Hosseini.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Sep. 2018. Web. 25 Sep. 2018.