What is the meaning of the title of A Thousand Splendid Suns?
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The title literally is taken from a poem written by Saeb-e-Tabrizi, who was a seventeenth-century Persian poet. In this poem, he uses the phrase "a thousand splendid suns" to describe the beauty of Afghanistan and of its cultural achievements. It is therefore partly ironic that this is the title given to a novel that depicts the complete destruction of Afghanistan in terms of its culture and sophistication. There is little evidence of the beauty that the poem alludes to when the Taliban take over. The title therefore partly highlights the tragedy of what has occurred in Afghanistan by forcing us to remember what it used to be like, as the visit to the giant buddha statues before their destruction demonstrates.
Secondly, however, I think we can also argue that the title draws attention to the way in which the beauty of Aghanistan lives on in the love and sacrificial relationship that Leila and Mariam develop together. In a sense, they are two of the "splendid suns" that the novel refers to, who refuse to yield to despair no matter how difficult and challenging the situations they face become.
"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."
The poem reflects the incomparable beauty of Kabul, one that cannot be counted. Kabul is their home, the city in which they centered their lives. In the novel, Laila's family is tied to the city. Her father went to school there, got his first job there, started a family there. (172) Her mother wants to stay because her sons died to free Afghanistan from the Soviets. "They knew Mammy wasn't going anywhere. Leaving Afghanistan had been unthinkable to her while Ahmed and Noor were still alive. Now that they were shaheed, packing up and running was an even worse affront, a betrayal, a disavowal of the sacrifice her sons had made. How can you think of it? Laila could hear her saying. Does their dying mean nothing to you, cousin? The only solace I find is in knowing that I walk the same ground that soaked up their blood. No. Never." (136) Their blood flowed through Kabul and the poem expresses their unending love.
The significance represents the connection that they would always have to Kabul. Laila's father delivers these two lines as a farewell ode to Kabul, but he and Mammy would never leave, as a rocket destroyed their home, killing both her parents and harming Laila. (174) Laila is then trapped in an abusive marriage in an abusive city. Gone were the minimal rights women had. (248) She finally escapes, however, to Pakistan with Tariq and her children, a place where they are free. (344) But she wants to return to Kabul, where changes are happening under the new government. (345)
"A year ago, she would have gladly given an arm to get out of Kabul. But in the last few months, she had found herself missing the city of her childhood…But it isn't mere homesickness or nostalgia that has Laila thinking of Kabul so much these days. She has become plagued by restlessness. She hears of schools built in Kabul, roads repaved, women returning to work, and her life here, pleasant as it is, grateful as she is for it, seems…insufficient to her. Inconsequential. Worse yet, wasteful. Of late, she has started hearing Babi's voice in her head. You can be anything you want, Laila, he says. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you. Laila hears Mammy's voice too. She remembers Mammy's response to Babi when he would suggest that they leave Afghanistan. I want to see my sons' dream come true. I want to be there when it happens, when Afghanistan is free, so the boys see it too. They'll see it through my eyes. There is a part of Laila now that wants to return to Kabul, for Mammy and Babi, for them to see it through her eyes. And then, most compelling for Laila, there is Mariam. Did Mariam die for this? Laila asks herself. Dis she sacrifice herself so she, Laila, could be a maid in a foreign land? Maybe it wouldn't matter to Mariam what Laila did as long as she and the children were safe and happy. But it matters to Laila. Suddenly, it matters very much." (345)
The author chose this for his title, because of the roundness of their travels. The start with freedom in Kabul, to oppression in Kabul, to escape from Kabul, to new hope within Kabul. Things happen in Kabul, and nothing is more potent than one's home, a thousand splendid suns.
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