illustration of two women standing in burkas with two overlapping circles between them and the title A Thousand Splendid Suns written above them

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

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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...

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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 thetragedy 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.

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How would you summarise A Thousand Splendid Suns?

I have included links below to more information about this novel on the enotes study guide section of this site, and you will find in particular a very detailed summary, but here is a much more concise version.

This novel tells the story of two women in Afghanistan, and in particular how their lives intersect. Mariam is a woman who grew up as an illegitimate child, her mother having been seduced by her employer. When Mariam demands recognition, her father ignores her and her mother commits suicide. Her father then marries her off to a man much older than her, called Rasheed, who is a strict Muslim and insists that Mariam wear the full burqa and live an isolated life.

Meanwhile, nine-year-old Laila's youthful love for Tariq, a local boy, is described. Laila's family are about to leave Kabul because of the fighting and the civil war, and so the two are separated. However, Laila's parents are both killed by a rocket attack, leaving her by herself and isolated in Kabul. She goes to Rasheed and he takes her as his second wife.

Rasheed beats Mariam but not Laila. Laila quickly has one child and then another a little later who are very different. Finally it becomes clear that Laila's first child's father was not Rasheed but Tariq, and Rasheed becomes violent towards them both. Finally, Mariam protects Laila by hitting Rasheed, killing him. Laila runs away with Tariq to make a new life together in Pakistan while Mariam is stoned publicly in a football stadium for killing her husband.

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