A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns book cover
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What happens in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

  • The lives of many women intertwine in Kabul, Afghanistan. Fifteen year old Mariam is forced to marry an older man, a shoemaker named Rasheed, who has just lost his son and is hoping Mariam will bear him a new one; she doesn't, and he begins beating her.
  • Meanwhile, her neighbor Fariba has a daughter, Laila. Many years later, Laila gets pregnant out of wedlock. Tariq, the baby's father, supposedly dies in a Pakistani hospital, forcing Laila to accept Rasheed's marriage proposal to cover up her pregnancy.
  • Laila's daughter, Aziza, is born, and Mariam becomes her grandmother. Laila has a son named Zalmai with Rasheed. When Zalmai is two, Tariq comes back, and Laila and Rasheed fight.
  • Mariam kills Rasheed and is beheaded in public because of it. In the end, Laila, Tariq, and the children escape and are able to start a new life together.

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mariam and her mother, Nana, a former housekeeper for Mariam’s wealthy father, Jalil, have been banished to a hut near a small Afghan village to avoid humiliating Jalil’s three wives and nine children in Herat. Nana bitterly disparages both Mariam and Jalil, who visits his daughter weekly. Even though the village mullah urges Nana to send the girl to school, she refuses, insisting that the only skill a woman needs is endurance.

To celebrate her fifteenth birthday, Mariam begs Jalil to take her to a cinema in Herat, but both parents strenuously object. When Jalil fails to meet her, Mariam walks alone to the city, only to be told that her father is not at home. On her return she discovers that Nana has killed herself.

Reluctantly, Jalil takes Mariam into his home. The three wives, who wish to get rid of her permanently, inform her that they have found a suitor, Rasheed, a forty-five-year-old shoemaker from Kabul, whom she will marry tomorrow. At the wedding, she is ignored by her father. She mopes in Kabul until Rasheed instructs her to behave like a wife. His only son had drowned, and he wants another son. Waiting at the communal oven, Mariam encounters Fariba, a politically and socially liberal neighbor, whose husband, Hakim, is a teacher.

Conservative Rasheed buys Mariam a burka, a floor-length garment that covers her completely; he orders her to wear the garment in public. He also thoroughly disapproves of Fariba, who merely covers her hair with a scarf. Rasheed takes Mariam to a restaurant, buys her a beautiful shawl, and shares her bed that night, but when she miscarries in the public bathhouse, his attitude changes. After four years of marriage and six more miscarriages, which he regards as personal insults, he believes Mariam is a useless nineteen year old; he frequently beats her.

Meanwhile, Hakim and Fariba have a daughter, Laila. Fariba is full of fire until their two sons go on jihad against the invading Soviets. Then, blaming Hakim for permitting them to leave, she retreats to her bed. After the brothers are killed, Laila becomes a caregiver for her parents, preparing her father’s dinner while he helps her with schoolwork. A calm and patient scholar, Hakim urges her to get an education before marrying.

When the Soviets are finally driven from Afghanistan, unrest returns to Kabul, as local warlords turn against each other. Fariba supports the Mujahideen, the Islamic militia that her sons had joined, but Hakim fears them and wants to leave Kabul. As ethnic violence continues, Laila is forced to drop out of school after a fellow student is blown to bits in the street.

Laila’s closest friend, the neighbor boy Tariq, has an artificial leg because of a Soviet land mine. Tariq and Laila become intimate after Tariq announces that his family is going to a refugee camp in Pakistan. Although he begs Laila to come with them, she cannot leave her father, who seems lost without Fariba’s support. Hakim and Fariba are killed when their home is shelled, and Rasheed finds Laila injured in the rubble. Mariam reluctantly tends her as she recovers. Later, Laila is...

(The entire section is 3,617 words.)