Sep 28, 2020 in Book Review

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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Executive Summary

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel, which is separated into four sections and majors on the challenges that the two main women characters, Mariam and Laila, faced between 1960 and 2003 within Afghanistan set up. The first section concentrates on Miriam, the second section – on Laila, the third section is focused on the interaction between these two women, and the fourth section dwells mainly on Laila. This paper makes use of the women characters in the story to explore and discuss the representation of Afghani women in the novel.

The story opens with the description of the life of Mariam who lived with her mother, Nana, 2 kilometers away from Haret in Kolba. Mariam is an out of wedlock daughter to Jalil who is a rich man living in Haret together with his legitimate 3 wives and nine children. Nana used to be Jalil’s housekeeper before she was impregnated by the boss. The result was a protest from Jalil’s wives as well as the rejection of Nana by her own people, which ended in her being sent away. However, Jalil provided shelter and food to the illegitimate family in the remote place in Kolba where he used to visit them every Thursday and send them food supplies once in a month (Hosseini 1-5).

During this time, Mariam believed in everything Jalil told her. She also demystified the mother’s counsel with a belief that the mother was not truthful. Mariam’s insistence to go and see the father’s cinema on his fifteenth birthday was opposed by the mother. As a result, Nana hanged herself out of anger that her daughter had forsaken her; the only company she thought would remain with her. Mariam, however, came back without meeting her father and having had a taste of her mother’s counsel, but too late to find the mother already dead ( Hosseini 10-20).

The burial of Nana was attended by Jalil who prided on how he provided for his illegitimate family. Mariam was then accommodated in his legitimate family who later gave her for marriage to Rasheed, a 30 year older man than Mariam who was also a shoemaker. This was a forced marriage against Mariam’s wishes. Rasheed mistreated Mariam, especially after failing to give birth, despite having seven successive conceptions (Hosseini 30-50).

The second section describes the second main woman character called Laila who lives in the same neighborhood with Mariam in Kabul. Laila was a very close friend to Tariq. This led to a love relationship and a very emotive farewell when Tariq’s family was leaving Kabul due to war. Later, Laila’s family was destroyed by a rocket as they were also packing to leave Kabul. The rocket killed Laila’s parents and seriously injured Laila who was then taken by the neighbors, Mariam and Rasheed (Hosseini 70-100).

Laila recovered from the injuries but was pregnant with Tariq’s child. Additionally, the rumors had it that Tariq was dead. Laila then married Rasheed who was looking forward to having a child with her. Laila’s first birth of a daughter instead of a son made Rasheed skeptical about her and he began abusing her. This scenario brought Mariam and Laila together. They planned to escape from Rashid, but later got caught up at the bus stage. This exposed the two women to more abuse and trauma (Hosseini 120-150).

Laila became pregnant from Rasheed and gave birth to Zalmai, a baby boy. At this time, the Taliban were in power and the living conditions were worsening. Additionally, Rasheed’s workshop burnt down and Rasheed sent Aziza, the illegitimate child, to an orphanage. However, the appearance of Tariq brought back the passion of Laila, and the duo reunited. The learning of the new relationship between Laila and Tariq led to the thorough beating of Laila by Rasheed.

Mariam intervened and killed Rasheed. Mariam was executed while Laila and Tariq together with the two children left for Pakistan. Later, they returned to Afghanistan, discovered Mariam’s earlier upbringing as well as her inheritance from the dad. While in Kabul, Laila and Tariq began a new life, Laila became a teacher at the orphanage and planned to name the expected child “Mariam” if it was a girl (Hosseini 280).

Themes depicted by the women character in this book can be summarised as the community’s perceived or misconceived role or plight of women in the society using Mariam and Laila as the main women characters. The other women characters used by the author such as Nana, Afoos, Khadija, Fariba, and Aziza also explain the same position of women within the two generations described in the book. Specifically, the women characters have been used to explain main themes, including women discrimination, the strength of women, the human capacity of evil, loyalty of women, violence to women, education for women, marriage versus true love, pregnancy and children, female bonds, oppression, and hope among others (Marciniak 1-2).

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Women Discrimination as Depicted in the Novel

Discrimination of women is depicted in this novel. First, Nana, a maid, is sexually exploited and sent away once pregnant without being given consideration even by her own father. Mariam, on the other hand, is discriminated against by her father and is not allowed to meet the father even after walking to the compound at the age of fifteen (Hosseini 51). Moreover, she is given to an old man for marriage by force against her choice. She is looked at as a woman who should not have any say. Additionally, Rasheed beats and abuses her because she is not able to carry the pregnancy to term, a factor she has no control over, but no one is there to listen for her plight.

On the other hand, Rasheed takes the opportunity of Laila despite her tragedies and marries her at a very young age despite the wide age difference. This is a clear indication that women have no voice in decisions within this community and society. The writer uses women to show men as bosses who lord it all to women (Thompson 1).

However, it is important to note how women under some circumstances worked together against one another. The three wives of Jalil worked together and discriminated Nana after she was impregnated by their husband. They even extended their grievance and discrimination to her daughter Mariam and participated in giving her for marriage to an old man, Rasheed. They discriminated against her on the basis of her illegitimacy, which she did not have control over. On the other hand, Mariam was angry with Laila for accepting to be married by Rasheed, though she was quite aware that such a marriage was acceptable within the Afghanistan tradition (Hosseini 21).

Discrimination of women in this novel represents the sufferings of women in the Afghan society and may be extended to the majority of Muslim dominated cultures as well as most traditional African societies. In these societies, men have complete authority and power over their wives. A man can have an endless number of women to marry. This scenario got worse when rebels, the Taliban, came to power (Hosseini 21). They made it a law requiring the absolute submission of wives to their husbands without question or murmuring. As a result, eminent practices like wife battering, need for one to give birth, and humiliation among others was used to discriminate women.

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The Strength of Women

The strength of women can be said to be the most visible theme that traverses all four parts of this novel. It is quite sad to feel Nana when she explains the challenges she has been through after being impregnated by Jalil. The same man who sent her away sends her food ration once every month but is ashamed to be identified with her in public. Although Nana is annoyed with him, she endures his presence every Thursday when he comes to visit and allows him to see Mariam (Hosseini 12).

Mariam also endures the shame of her own father abandoning her to sleep in the cold. He even turns his face away after she notices him through the window the first time she attempted to reach his home. Despite this shame, she gains the strength to come and stay with him after the mother’s death. The approval of Mariam’s marriage by stepmothers was a real trauma for Miriam. This stress was worsened by the father who placed his weight behind it. Miriam, however, endures the ceremony, the journey, and the worst of all the abuse by Rasheed, and continues with her life (Thompson 1).

On the other hand, Laila is in the agony of losing the boy she loves as well as her supportive parents. She is being abused by Rasheed for having given birth to a baby girl, but she endures it all. They decide to move to Pakistan, but with a determination and willingness to come back to Afghanistan to cause change. She remembers Mariam and decides to come back to make honors and rebuild her country. She still loves the son who revealed their growing relationship with Tariq to Rasheed, a value which depicts her ability to endure hardships without holding grudges (Dembul 1).

The Human Capacity of Evil

The author uses women as victims of human evil deeds. The plight of Nana after she is sent away and her bid to up-bring her daughter in a forest with lots of mosquitoes illustrates this level of evil. The father of Mariam was a very wealthy man and could afford them a more decent life and location to live in. On the other hand, Nana’s father and the family of Jalil were never sorry for sending Nana out of the job and away from home while leaving Jalil to walk free as if he had done nothing. The evil of Jalil’s family is quite conspicuous. They proudly give out an underage for marriage to an old man Rasheed with no one coming to her defense. Rasheed also abuses and beats Mariam (McGlinn 6).

The senseless ability to carry out evil activities is also visible through Laila’s life. She loses her parents because of a rocket bomb. In the process, Laila is injured. After this, she seemed to have landed in the house of a Good Samaritan. Unfortunately, she ends up being married, abused, beaten and her own child, Aziza, is transferred to an orphanage, even though she is not an orphan. Both Mariam and Laila are not given liberty by their society to make an assertive decision. They become victims of abuse and oppression, but no one cares.

On the other side, it is important to note the character depicted in Mariam when she goes ahead to kill Rasheed with a shovel in an attempt to save her friend Laila and the children. Mariam even allows Laila and her family to leave Afghanistan before she accepts the blame for the murder. This character points to the authorities and their impending vengeance from the deity. Even though they have closed their eyes on the plight of citizens, they will soon pay the price for their deliverance or for their descendants to lead a better life. However, a predominantly patriarchal society could not understand the procedure to execute women on the basis of their gender.

The author uses women characters to show how justice is far from the truth in this society. The Afghanistan women are depicted as victims of the Soviet Union, the Mujahideen, and the Taliban who never had any feeling or value for human life (Hosseini 45). While allowing women characters to take the position of the Afghanistan citizens, they are abused, beaten, and mistreated without any person or organization advocating for their rights. The rules and regulations are established against them without their input and they must bow to these draconian laws (Thompson1-2).

The Loyalty of Women as Depicted in the Novel

The theme of loyalty is depicted by women throughout this novel. Nana becomes loyal and leaves home due to pregnancy. She accepts her status as an enduring lady. She remains loyal by creating time to be with Jalil every Thursday with restraint. Mariam, on the other hand, is loyal to Jalil and agrees to marry Rasheed against her wish. Mariam carries out her duties in the house of Rasheed with much loyalty despite the abuse. The epitome of her loyalty is when she accepts the blame for murdering Rasheed despite the repercussions, which would follow.

She shows loyalty to her friend Laila by not dragging them into the murder cases. Instead, she allows them to escape the likelihood of the consequences. Mariam was ready and willing to protect her friend Laila from Rashid’s anger. She could not imagine sitting and watching her friend die. She counted the friendship cost and became loyal even to the point of death (McGlinn 7).

Laila is another loyal lady. Her love for her father, the desire to obey her father, and the determination to pursue education for success cannot be overemphasized. On the other hand, her loyalty to Tariq traverses childhood connections to several years after a decade of separations. It is important to note that though she refused to marry Tariq at the time of leaving Kabul because of her loyalty to the father, she agreed to make love with him and this love was proven in her willingness to up-bring Tariq’s daughter. Laila agrees to stick with Tariq when he came back at all costs and she does not care for the consequences that would come from the abusive Rasheed.

Even after several years in exile, Laila does not forget her friend Mariam. Additionally, she names her in-born child Mariam even before seeing the light of the day. She passes by Mariam’s parents and discovers her inheritance from Jalil. Her loyalty to her country and parents’ advice make her use her education to rebuild her country (“A Thousand Splendid Suns: Theme Analysis”).

Violence against Afghanistan Women

Violence against women is one of the prominent themes. Nana is sent away violently. She narrates it so painfully to her daughter Mariam. Precisely, she would take death as opposed to the manner in which her own father sided with everyone to push her away to an unknown future and destiny. She was not given any hearing and she was seen to be an outcast. Nana lived an enduringly painful life as a result of the violence against her. It can be argued that her suicidal death was prompted by the thought of her child leaving her without knowledge of the likely violence ahead. She could not take it any longer. In other words, the violence committed to Nana made her furious and violent to Jalil’s sons and herself (Thompson 1-2).

On the other hand, Nana’s daughter ends in the hands of the father’s driver who violently grabbed her and thrown her to the backseat of the car for home. Mariam again faces violent treatment when she tried to refuse the marriage deal her father entered with Rasheed. While living with Rasheed, she was roughly treated with no one to listen to her. She was severally beaten and denied food and water. Eventually, Mariam murdered him for protecting her friend and co-wife from being murdered. It is again depicted here that the continual violence, which Mariam had been exposed to, made her embrace violence, and solve violent circumstances. This is depicted by how she violently murdered her husband to save her co-wife (Dembul 1)

Laila seems to go through another form of violence. Rasheed begins to mistreat her together with her daughter. She is also a victim of violence, is denied food and even water for several days to the extent that the child is about to die. When she finally gets in touch with her loved one, she gets more beating, a kind that was going to kill her were it not for the intervention of her friend Laila.

It is important to note that the women also underwent more mental violence than physical violence as they tried to come to terms with the male-executed trauma. The thought process always led them to shed tears even as they turned their attention to a better life in children and education. Nana could not withstand the mental torture anymore and opted for suicide (“A Thousand Splendid Suns: Theme Analysis”).

Representation of Education of Afghan Women

This novel depicts women's education as a positive issue in determining the future of Afghanistan. Nana allows Mulla Faizullah to train Mariam in Koran. Such training enabled Miriam to know how to read and write. However, Nana is not willing to release Mariam to go to school even though Mariam longs for the school where the daughters of her father are. Nana’s only advice is that Mariam’s duty is to endure everything that comes her way. Actually, the mother has always called her a bustard. Despite these challenges, Mariam acquires skills that later enable her to teach Koran to the little Aziza (McGlinn 2).

Laila’s upbringing on education is exactly the opposite of Mariam. Laila is brought up with parents who knew the value of educating both the girl and the boy child since they were also educated. As a result, Laila’s father helped her to understand the benefits of education. Laila’s parents gave her the opportunity of private coaching with Hakim, particularly when the security in Kabul could not allow them to go to school. Hakim emphasized the importance of education in rebuilding Afghanistan and the importance of learning in the university. As a result, Laila got the opportunity to go to school (Hosseini 22).

Both Mariam and Laila were pro-education oriented. Mariam was determined to coach the little Aziza on the Koran while Laila ended up volunteering to teach at the school. The women took a practical role in ensuring that women were educated. Laila’s decision to volunteer and teach would spur many girls to go to school as well as afford Laila an opportunity to advocate for girl children’s education. It is also important to note that Aziza and Zalmai were going to school together. This was a clear indication that Laila was determined to treat both the boy and the girl child equally in terms of available equal chances for studies.

Marriage vs True Love

The author brings forth a marked difference between marriage and true love as understood by this society. Most women characters are forced into marriage by men. Such forced marriage denies women the true love. This society’s expectation of women is more or less like workers and child-bearers according to the preference of men (Dembul 1).

Several women characters support the communities’ marriage standards. For example, Nana believes that her hope of getting married was destroyed by ‘Jinn’. She has no love from the father of her daughter and she commits suicide due to this stress and trauma. A child born out of wedlock is considered a curse and the society is not willing to associate with women of such caliber. It is, however, absurd to note that only women faced the ex-communication associated with a child born out of wedlock. Mariam, on the other hand, is forced into marriage with a man she does not love. Her marriage is marked with violence and misunderstanding at every opportunity.

However, she later decides to give her marriage the best shot, hoping that she can acquire contentment out of it. However, she loses the battle and her life worsens with the marriage of Laila as a co-wife. She later realizes the cunning attitude of her husband and joins hands with the co-wife to defend themselves against their husband. Her marriage worsens and she ends up killing the husband and later faces the execution (Thompson 1).

Laila, on the other hand, has longed for true love from Tariq. However, the insecurity, which led to the migration of her lovers’ family and the death of her family members, made her land under the mercies of Rasheed. Her marriage with Rasheed did not depict love. It was characterized by beatings and abuses of all kinds. The living conditions worsened and she lost touch with her child who ended up growing in an orphanage. Later, with the re-union with Tariq, Laila experienced the true love she had once longed for. The two lived happily together with their children. The true love brought with it companionship and focus.

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Pregnancy and Children

This book portrays pregnancy as a sign of hope. However, a pregnancy outside marriage is seen as a bad omen that warrants the ex-communication of women. The man only shares the shame if he accepts to leave with the woman as the child becomes a daily reminder. This was clearly demonstrated by Nana’s affair with Jalil in which she was sent away by both Jalil’s family and her own parents. Her pregnancy was a shame for both families.

However, throughout the novel, pregnancies depicted hope. This is because men preferred to have sons in this society; hence, a woman giving birth to a son would be accorded respect. Mariam is an example of a woman whose hope was rekindled for a better life every time she was pregnant, although her dreams of a better life were shattered when she miscarried in all the pregnancies she had (McGlinn 6).

Laila was traumatized following the departure of Tariq. Her worries were worsened by the death of her parents as well as the impact of the attack on her health. However, her hope began growing when she realized that she was pregnant from Tariq. While married to Rasheed, Aziza was a sign of hope for both Mariam and Laila. However, Rasheed had no joy in the girl child and was determined to frustrate the wives until they got him a boy child. The two children Aziza and Zalmai caused a strong bond between Mariam and Laila and gave them solace from their abusive husband (Herbert 34).

The two women were ready to protect and educate these children. Later, Laila was willing to see Mariam come to picture by planning to name the expected child “Mariam” if she happened to be a girl, which came to pass. It is important to note that a woman’s value in Afghanistan was the ability to bear children. As a result, barren women were scorned publicly. They were considered as products of curses.

Female Bonds as Depicted in the Novel

The bonds between the women have been shown to wear out the intentions of their husbands within this book. In the first part of the story, the bond of three wives of Jalil appears to be so strong that Jalil had to send the illegitimate woman away after sacking her. Their unity is evident in the way they push Mariam away and hand her for marriage to Rashid.

On the other hand, the bond between Giti, Hasina, and Laila at their young age was strong and inseparable. Additionally, the bond between Nana and Mariam was a life-and-death affair. An attempt to assume this bond by Mariam led to the death of her mother. The scar of the lost relationship continued to traumatize Mariam throughout her life. The relationship also enabled Miriam to understand her mother’s advice on the place of women in Afghan society (McGlinn 5).

The bond between Mariam and Laila was a sterling one. The two women understood the abuse and challenges they faced daily and chose to support and stand with one another. They ganged against their husband and decided to leave, though they were caught up and received the full price of their decision. However, such challenges helped their bond to become stronger to the extent that when Rasheed was about to kill Laila, Mariam had to come to her rescue and did not mind murdering Rasheed as long as Laila would be saved (“A Thousand Splendid Suns: Theme Analysis” 1).

The bond between Mariam and the inmates grew so fast and strong until several women admired her. It is quite clear that once confidence is developed between women, they are ready to forge ahead and challenge the male-dominated Afghan society through all the possible channels that are open to them. Their bonds are mainly a result of discrimination and violence that are inflicted upon them. As a result, they teach one another to attain the endurance and hardiness, which allows them to survive within the male-dominated harsh environment.

Oppression and Hope

Hosseini presents women’s various circumstances in which they maintain hope in the midst of oppression and discrimination (Hosseini 33). Nana goes through oppression for having an affair and getting pregnant from the boss and a married man, but all her hope is in her daughter. When the daughter leaves home, she takes it as a shattered hope and end of life and hence commits suicide. Mariam sees education as her hope at quite an early age.

She receives Koran training, which also enables her to gain knowledge on how to read and write, though this is not enough to make her fulfill her dreams. In her marriage, her hope of having a child is rekindled with every pregnancy but is later shattered upon miscarriage. She later turns her hope to the children of her co-wife and stresses the importance of their education and upbringing to the extent that she is ready to die for them to live (McGlinn 8).

Laila’s hope of a better life had been built by her parents and she was focused on education. Later, her hope was also extended to include spending time with her true love Tariq. The departure of Tariq and the tragedy, which befell her family, destroyed her hope. Later, learning that Tariq might have been dead, she gets more traumatized, but the expected baby gave her some hope. The oppression and abuse from Rasheed could not be wished away. It made life unbearable for her to the extent that she decided to escape together with Mariam.

It is, however, important to note that Laila was able to see her dream and hope come true when she eventually lived together with Tariq while she taught at school as well as saw the children pursue their studies together. She was also able to participate in the development of her beloved nation (Dembul 1)

It is important to note that the hope of these women amidst the severe oppression was used by the author to depict their hope, which always rises when new leadership comes to power but is later shattered. The hope of Afghanistan therefore remains in giving everyone the opportunity for education to be used in developing their nation as well as avoiding the draconian culture of oppressing women. True love could help families to participate in non-discriminative development (McGlinn 1-2).

Conclusion

The representation of Afghani women in Khaled Hosseini’s novel is meant to bring out the plight of female Afghani citizens. The common citizens were going through discriminatory and oppressive rule from the Soviet Union as well as the rebels. The intervention of the US forces also led to the killing of many civilians with no one to advocate for their rights.

As a result, the characters of women were meant to depict the helpless situation the nation was plunged into. The author demonstrates the hope that still reigns within the citizens with every appearing leadership. Though their hopes have not been met, they all support the role of education and equal opportunity for both the girl and the boy child and the starting point in addressing their problems.

The women also live to the fact that their hope will not be fulfilled by foreigners, but by themselves by choosing to work towards reconciliation, abandoning authoritative culture and discrimination while standing with one another in unity towards a common goal of uniting their nation (“A Thousand Splendid Suns: Theme Analysis” 1). The characters of these women go deeper to describe their inner mental pain and helplessness that the country has been subjected to.

The subject of concern is the inhuman way in which fellow humans handle others. The author was able to create suspense throughout the novel. This is a clear indication of the predicament that the Afghani is without the ability to predict what can become of them the next day (Dembul 1).

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