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 thematic significance of the phrase “a thousand splendid suns” in the novel?

The phrase “a thousand splendid suns,” from the poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi, is quoted twice in the novel—once as Laila’s family prepares to leave Kabul, and again when she decides to return there from Pakistan. It is also echoed in one of the final lines: “Miriam is in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.”

Quick answer:

The title of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns refers to the theme of the strength and resilience of Afghan women that runs throughout the novel. Women like Mariam and Laila manage to retain their inner light and shine it to others even in the midst of the great darkness of their lives.

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Khaled Hosseini's novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is filled with the darkness of war and poverty and oppression and abuse. Yet somehow through it all, Mariam and Laila manage to keep their inner lights burning for themselves and for their children.

These two women search for light in the world but find mostly darkness. Mariam is an illegitimate child, rejected by her father. Her mother commits suicide, and Mariam feels guilty for that. She is forced into a marriage to Rasheed, who is nearly thirty years older than she is and highly abusive.

Laila also struggles as she grows up. She enters into an intimate relationships with Tariq and becomes pregnant with his child. But Tariq and his family leave Afghanistan, and shortly afterward, Laila's parents are killed when a rocket hits their home. Laila ends up as Rasheed's second wife, and he is abusive to her as well, especially after he realizes that Laila's child is not his own.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan falls under the domination of the Taliban, and women are severely restricted in their movements. Mariam and Laila try to take their children and leave Rasheed, but they are caught and severely beaten. Yet together, these women provide a light for each other, their children, and the world around them. They hold onto their hope. They work together and suffer together. In the end, Mariam kills Rasheed. She is executed for her act, but she has freed Laila to finally be with Tariq, and Laila knows that Mariam's light shines within her as she and Tariq run an orphanage to help others.

The idea of “a thousand splendid suns,” then, refers to the strength and inner illumination of Afghan women like Mariam and Laila who suffer greatly but retain their spirit through it all.

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