Khaled Hosseini’s book A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once beautiful, powerful, tragic, and dramatic and has rightfully won several literary awards. It covers 30 years of Afghanistan’s history, from invasion by the Soviet Union to the Taliban’s seizure of power. While full of violence and cruelty, it also expresses great faith in the future and hope for better times. The narrative is made up of two personal stories told mainly through the eyes of two women who come from different generations and have somehow found themselves together. The book shows how ruthless time is and how fate toys with people. But amid the cruelty and grief of war we see a story of touching – and at first glance, improbable – friendship, support, and indestructible love.
Laila and Mariam – a Story of Misfortunes
By the will of fate, the two women became wives to the same man. The older wife, Mariam, is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman and his servant, who grew up in a hut in Herat. She was neglected, unwanted, and unloved – even by her mother: “an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.” She is forced to marry after her mother commits suicide, and becomes the wife of Rasheed, a cruel, much older man who treats her like a slave whose sole purpose is to give him a son.
Laila is very different. She is 15 years younger than Mariam and grew up in a loving and harmonious family of intellectuals who adored her. Despair led her to marry a man who was practically old enough to be her grandfather. A bomb had destroyed her house and killed her parents, and Laila was pregnant from a man she had loved since childhood who had fled the country.
Both women are unhappy; both are victims of their violent husband who constantly beats them. They live in a society where they are considered inferior, second-class people: “Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” At first, they don’t know how to relate to each other – are they enemies? Sisters? Friends? Brought together by war and death, the two women try to live their lives and dream of happiness.
Thanks to their dreams and inner strength, the book remains a story of love, friendship, and self-sacrifice. Together, the two women, who have no source of affection or support except for each other, show that the human spirit endures even in the most difficult circumstances.
The “Splendor of a Thousand Suns” in a Shattered World
The story is set in Kabul, a city where people are divided by origin, gender, religion, economic status, and much more. The book’s title, however, refers to a 17th century poem, which describes Kabul as follows: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” Despite the pain, violence and segregation, there is hope in the book that Kabul will shine once again; this is how the narrative ends.
After a family reunification, in restored Kabul, Laila fulfills her late father’s wish for her. She stops hiding behind walls and shares her light with others, teaching them the most important life lesson she had learned from her wise father: “I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now,” he had said. “Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.”