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.