A Thousand Splendid Suns: Book Review

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a narrative of two women, Mariam and Laila. The narratives parallel and highlight the struggles they faced as women in Afghanistan. Author, Khaled Hosseini makes the tragedies of war we hear about relatable as he personalizes the story and highlights how war and poverty affect innocent people. His novel paints a vivid picture of everyone’s role in the war and pays a great deal of attention to the way traditional aspects of Muslim culture for women where then used as forms of control and punishment.


The book begins with the life of Mariam, the main character of the story whom we follow from her youth until her death. Her tale begins with her living in a small town on the outskirts of the city with her bitter and disgruntled mother. Her mother continuously belittles her for dreaming and believing that her father, Jalil, whom visits her once a week, loves her as he does his other children. Her mother was banished from her town after losing her job as a housecleaner in Jalil’s house when it was discovered he had an affair with her that led to her pregnancy. Eventually, Mariam’s desire to live with her father and maintain a healthy relationship with him caused her mother so much pain she ended up committing suicide. Mariam learns quickly that under her mother’s bitter words were truth, though her father loved her, she was not welcome in his world or his home amongst his other family. After Mariam’s mother died, Jalil and his wives arranged for Mariam to be married to Rasheed, a widow whose wife died in childbirth and first son drowned.

Rasheed and Mariam live in the capital city, Kabul for the duration of their adult lives as a traditional Muslim couple in an era where Muslim couples were beginning to modernize. Women whose husbands’ practiced traditional Muslim laws would not wear make up and would cover themselves with Burqa’s as opposed to more modernized Muslims who began wearing there hair out in public with make up on. Rasheed began verbally and physically abusing Mariam after her inability to produce a child, specifically a son. They lived that way until Laila was added to their family as a second wife after a Mujahedeen rocket killed her parents. She had two children; a son by Rasheed later in their marriage and a daughter by her true love, Tariq that she told Rasheed was his child. The war was more severe; women were not allowed to walk on the streets alone and extreme poverty was setting in. The narrative comes to a climax when Rasheed intends to kill Laila after she has lied for years about her daughter being his daughter. Mariam, who had become very close with Laila, ended up killing Rasheed in order to protect Laila. .

This story has several themes one being the discrimination of women in Afghan society. Every group that had power at some point during the war gave men complete power over their wives, the Taliban even went so far as to write this into their laws. There were numerous occasions of women being beaten, humiliated, murdered and even some cases of them losing rights to their children. Mariam and Laila were only two examples of women who were abused and mistreated by their husbands. It was their sense of loyalty to their children and to each other that gave them strength to persevere. The most dominant theme throughout would be the theme strength of women. Before marrying Rasheed, Laila grew up strong; fighting through the judgments of traditional Muslims to continue her education, she excelled. Hosseini highlights the strength of women in multiple aspects in this novel. He starts with the slow endurance Mariam has with her mother enduring her belittling and badmouthing her aspirations and father. Then trails slowly to Laila’s strength to put aside her desire to continue to, to marry and be with Tariq for the sake of staying with her parents and the ends with the example of both Mariam and Laila enduring their marriage to Rasheed for as long as they could. The characters in the text are all victims of a senseless war where the Soviets, the Mujahedeen and the Taliban who all display how little respect they have for human life. The women are somehow wedged in the middle of the men’s power struggle. The Taliban go so far as to deny women basic health care rights. The Taliban’s new laws basically gave men like Rasheed permission to control their wives when they didn’t produce the sons they asked for. The writer speaks from both Mariam and Laila’s point of view at different parts of the text but maintains it’s feminine voice throughout while giving the men a story as well. In a historical period where women had no voice one can deduce the point of the narrative was to give them one.

In this narrative political views and religion go hand in hand, people’s religious beliefs caused them to make political careers in attempts to mandate their religious beliefs. The Taliban believed all women should be covered and submissive, from this they began to make laws about how women should act and carry themselves. There is a huge push to stop the modernized Muslim movement and reform back to the traditional beliefs and customs.

To conclude, this narrative is a clear concise story that allows one to personalize history and understand how one going through it may feel. The book starts out at the early stages of each woman’s life, which allows us to put their struggle into context, one was born into struggle and one was thrown into struggle when the war began. It’s important to give a voice to the women who suffered in this time as well as high light their strengths and weaknesses and not just making them victims which the author does well. Understanding the struggles one faces during a war is invaluable, it makes you pay attention as opposed to it being another historical event and time of tragedy because at the time we are in they occur often. To truly grasp what Muslim women went through and appreciate their strength, one should read this book.

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