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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A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel by Khaled Hosseini in which Mariam and Laila bond over their shared hardships as the wives of an abusive husband.

  • Mariam is forced to marry Rasheed, an abusive older man.
  • Years later, Laila becomes Rasheed’s second wife to hide her pregnancy, as she believes that her child’s real father, Tariq, is dead.
  • Laila’s child is a girl, much to Rasheed’s disappointment. She later has a son.
  • Tariq returns and begins meeting with Laila. Rasheed finds out and attacks Laila. Mariam intervenes and kills Rasheed, sacrificing her life so that Laila and Tariq can escape with the children.

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Last Updated February 29, 2024.

Introduction

In A Thousand Splendid Suns, author Khaled Hosseini explores the lives of two women in Afghanistan, Mariam and Laila, in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first. The story intricately weaves the personal tragedies and triumphs of these women against the backdrop of Afghanistan's tumultuous history, capturing their struggles with societal norms, personal identity, and survival. Hosseini, through his vivid storytelling, offers readers a glimpse into the harsh realities faced by women in Afghanistan, marked by moments of resilience, sacrifice, and an unyielding hope for a better future.

Plot Summary

The novel opens with the young Mariam, learning the bitter truth of her birth as a "harami," or bastard. Born to Nana, a former housekeeper, and Jalil, a wealthy businessman with three wives, Mariam's existence is marred by rejection. Despite Jalil's occasional affection, Mariam is raised in isolation on the outskirts of Herat, forever marked by her illegitimacy. Her early life is defined by her longing for acceptance and love, particularly from her father, Jalil. This longing leads her to Herat in hopes of acknowledgment, only to be faced with betrayal and the subsequent tragedy of her mother's suicide.

Following her mother's death, Mariam is hastily married off to Rasheed, a significantly older shoemaker from Kabul. The marriage quickly devolves into a nightmare of abuse and domination, encapsulating the harsh realities of many Afghan marriages at the time. Mariam's life, once filled with the possibility of love and acceptance, becomes a cycle of endurance and survival within the confines of her husband's home.

Enter Laila, born to intellectual parents and raised with a belief in the power of education and the promise of a brighter future. Her story intertwines with Mariam's when a rocket destroys her home, killing her parents and leaving her injured. Rasheed, seizing the opportunity, rescues Laila and subsequently marries her under the guise of compassion. Laila, pregnant with her childhood love Tariq's child, reluctantly agrees, seeing it as the only way to ensure her unborn child's survival.

The relationship between Mariam and Laila starts strained, each viewing the other through a lens of suspicion and jealousy. However, as they endure Rasheed's escalating abuse together, a deep bond forms between them. Laila gives birth to a daughter, Aziza, whom Rasheed despises for not being a son. The arrival of the Taliban brings further hardship, restricting women's rights and freedoms, and exacerbating the already dire conditions of their lives.

Amidst the backdrop of Kabul's crumbling landscape and the tyranny of their home life, Laila and Mariam find solace in each other's company. Their shared struggles forge a strong, maternal bond between Mariam and Aziza, and a sisterly bond between Mariam and Laila. Together, they dream of escape, a dream that becomes more desperate as Rasheed's violence worsens.

The turning point comes when Tariq, presumed dead, reappears. His return rekindles hope for Laila and ultimately leads to a confrontation with Rasheed. In a climactic act of defiance, Mariam kills Rasheed to protect Laila and her children. This act of violence, while freeing them from Rasheed's tyranny, demands a sacrifice. Mariam, accepting responsibility for the murder, allows Laila, Tariq, and the children to escape, facing her own execution with a sense of peace, knowing she has secured a better future for them.

Laila and Tariq eventually settle in Murree, Pakistan, but Kabul and the memory of Mariam's sacrifice remain in their hearts. In a poignant conclusion, Laila returns to Afghanistan, visiting Mariam's childhood home and honoring her memory. The novel closes with Laila's pregnancy, a symbol of hope and renewal, as she plans to name her child Mariam, in tribute to the woman who changed her life forever.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is not just a story of two women's survival in the face of overwhelming adversity; it is a testament to the enduring power of love and sacrifice. Through Mariam and Laila's journey, Hosseini illuminates the strength and resilience of Afghan women, offering a deeply moving narrative of hope, redemption, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

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