A Thousand Splendid Suns is an extremely hard book to read because it is hard to imagine people are living in this very different world at the same time I have lived in mine. The main characters, Mariam and Laila, face many difficult hardships. Similar to the structure of A Thousand Splendid Suns, this paper is broken up into four parts. In part one, the reader is immersed into 1960’s Afghanistan that traces Mariam’s life as she is young through the first four years of her marriage. Part two introduces Laila. Part three brings Mariam and Laila together as they are both wives of Rasheed. While part four, concludes with Laila’s living situation. The author, Hosseini, emerges the reader into the completely foreign Afghanistan world and powerfully displays the strength of women.
The beginning of the book starts with Mariam’s difficult life. To begin, the reader learns Miriam is an illegitimate child of a wealthy businessman, Jalil. As a fifteen year old, Mariam and her mother, Nana, have a rocky relationship and Mariam is very resentful towards her mother, who is mean to Mairiam. After running away to her father’s, Mariam returns home to find her mother had committed suicide. This beginning of the book foreshadows how difficult Miriam’s life will be ahead. Another example of Hosseini foreshadowing is when Nana tells Mariam that Jalil told his wives Nana forced herself on him and that it was her fault, “this is what it means to be a woman in the world.” (page 6); this foreshadows Mariam’s future marriage.
The suicide of Mariam’s mother is the catalyst to Mariam’s arranged marriage to Rasheed. Mariam’s marriage to Rasheed shows Miriam’s resilience and strength because Rasheed is abusive as Mariam cannot have children. Rasheed is a man who feeds off the weak, he is a classic bully who belittles the people closest to him. What is amazing is how Mariam managed so well after the physical and psychological torture that Rasheed forced upon her. She is resilient, all throughout the novel, but in the beginning is where her ability focus on what is necessary and unnecessary really resonates to the reader.
Not only does Mariam cope with hardship, but she never but she never becomes a crueler person for it. Mariam continues to take pain from others and remains strong. Women in A Thousand Splendid Suns are symbols of a sort of Christ-figure; someone who takes the pain of others. This development creates a person who would much gladly put themselves in harm’s way so another person wouldn’t have to. It takes a massive amount of inner strength, something Mariam continues to show throughout part one and the entire book.
In regard to Mariam, one cannot overstate how much suffering Rasheed caused her. Rasheed was a man that when Mariam wasn’t fulfilling all of her wifely duties, and didn’t prove herself any main use, he would just discard her and make her eat rocks and dirt until blood and teeth were coming out of her mouth just for not cooking a proper meal. Yet, she had no choice for the sake of her life to obey his every command. “She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world as a reminder of how women like us suffer, he'dsaid.How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.” (page 82) The snowflakes illustrate Hosseini’s masterful work of imagery. In addition, the quote shows how Mariam’s ability to adapt to the constantly changing life situations, however bad they may get.
The juxtaposition of women and men is another theme throughout the book. “A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you.” (page 26) This passage shows the difference between men and women in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Most of the men in the book are rigid and uncompromising, especially where women are concerned. The women bend to the commands of the men, but stay strong throughout their ordeal. One can understand the ability of women to change and adapt to their given circumstances. It illustrates my contention that women in the novel are strong, resilient and courageous despite their circumstances.
My assertion in Part one continues in Part two; women are courageous despite diminishing views regarding to one’s ability to persevere life’s altering situations. Part two spans Laila’s early years until the death of her parents. Mariam and Laila’s upbringing are very different; Mariam is a poor, traditional woman, and Laila is a more modern and educated woman.
Hosseini juxtaposes lives Laila and Mariam in part two. As outlined in part one, Mariam grows up unloved and alone. On the other hand, Laila is cherished by her father and finds true young love. Laila’s father, Hakim, is also one of the few progressive men in the book. Hakim tells Laila, “I want you to understand and learn this now. Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila…. I know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” (page 103) This is in blunt dissimilarity to Mariam’s upbringing and also Rasheed’s beliefs. Laila also fulfils her father’s goals at the end of the book when she becomes a teacher and helps rebuild an orphanage in Kabul.
Although Laila’s background is very different to Mariam’s she also has many hardships. While Hakim wanted Laila to go to school and do something important, things did not start that way. As Laila’s family is packing to escape Kabul a rocket hits the house and kill both of Laila’s parents. Laila is left an orphan and is also severely injured which leads to her being taken in by Rasheed and Mariam.
Part three begins with Laila’s slow recovery. She is faced with the guilt of her parents dying and not her. Her hardship deepens when Abdul Sharif, a man claiming to be a clothing store operator, relays the news that Tariq, Laila’s true love, has passed away from crossfire injuries. While Laila is very depressed she shows her inner strength and detached thinking by accepting Rashid’s marriage proposal. While it is clear to the reader Laila is beyond upset, she thinks critically and knows she must create a new life. I was very struck by Laila’s strength and ability to do what is best for herself, although very hard.
To compound her situation, Laila realizes she is pregnant with Tariq’s child. Again, Laila puts her emotions aside and ensures she and Rasheed marry quickly to help cover-up the unwed child. Rasheed is extremely controlling to both Mariam and Laila. He requires them to wear a burqa and does not allow Laila to ever leave the house. While Mariam likes the burqa as it acts as symbol that hides her past, it also clearly highlights the differences between men and women. Only women are required to wear a burqa.
The birth of Aziza, Laila’s daughter, upsets Rasheed – as she is not a boy. I found it frustrating that Rasheed got upset. He should be thrilled to be a father (although the child is not technically his, Rasheed does not know), and it is clear Rasheed does not see women at the same level as men.
About halfway through part three, Mariam and Laila begin to have a stronger relationship; they become confidants. They plan to run away from Rasheed and leave Kabul but are caught at the bus station. Rasheed beats them and deprives them of water for several days, almost killing Aziza. “Mariam saw now the sacrifices a mother made. Decency was but one.” (page 256) Again, we see that the women of the novel are rarely recognized for their sacrifices.
In the end of part 3, the reader discoveries the Tariq’s death was a fraud and in fact he is alive. Tariq visits Laila, and it seems everything will work out. But Rasheed finds out about this and becomes more physically abusive than ever before. As Rasheed is about to strangle Laila, Mariam takes charge of her life for the first time and beats Rasheed to death with a shovel. Mariam takes full charge; “Mariam steadied her feet and tightened her grip around the shovel handle. She raised it. She said his name. She wanted him to see.” (page 339) While Mariam dealt with hardship throughout the entire book and endured pain – this is the first time she showed strength in ownership.
It is interesting though, despite all of the abuse, Mariam questions if it was her actions that caused the abuse. “Had she ever been a deceitful wife?” she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonorable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing has she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, and the relish with which he tormented her?” (page 346) Even as Mariam showed strength, it is still difficult for her to see the entire picture and realize only Rasheed is to blame. It takes a long time, and an attempted murder, for Mariam to realize that it's not her fault. I was very struck by this moment in the book.
Mariam decides to turn herself into the Taliban for the murder of Rasheed. This is her ultimate sacrifice, as it allows for Laila and her two children to escape. In her final moments before being executed, Mariam has no regrets. Mariam is the true hero of the novel and gives to no ends. Mariam makes a decision that no man would make and she does what is moral and just.
Laila takes her two children, Aziza and Zalmai, and moves to Muree, Pakistan. This is where Laila and Tariq immediately marry and they start their fresh new life together, the one they had always dreamed for. Things go well for them, Laila becomes an elementary teacher and Tariq has job working as a janitor. It isn’t much but they are all finally happy and free from living under the scrutiny of an evil man. Laila always has Mariam in her thoughts. Everything that Mariam had sacrificed for Laila and her kids. Laila never forgets any of it and always has Mariam in her heart. “Mariam is never very far away. She is mostly in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with a bursting radiance of a thousand suns. In this way, Mariam and Kabul have the same power for the people who love them.” (page 414) One must realize that without all of the sacrifices Mariam made, Rasheed would have killed them, easily. This just reiterates the fact of how resilient, brave, and courageous the women in the novel are.
Both of Hosseini’s novels, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns have the identical underlying themes such as sacrifice, leading to a Christ figure. He does this in The Kite Runnera countless number of times, yet the one most notable was when Hassan allowed himself to be raped, so he could protect the kite that won the tournament so that Amir could get his father’s approval. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Mariam is the one who endures so much pain and suffering because of other peoples’ faults. She kills her husband, protecting Laila, the other wife for her wrong doings, thus leading to her public execution. Hosseini writes with a purpose and every part of his stories have meaning on so many different levels leaving a reader spellbound.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking novel, a book that once you start reading it, becomes hard to put down, despite the fact it is very sad. Hosseini paints a crystal clear picture of what is happening all throughout the novel, good and bad. Mariam was the Christ figure as is every other suffering woman under a man’s harsh and abusive rule. Limits are tested, betrayal is evident, and the only thing left is to survive. Because things will always get better in the future, there is always a silver lining. The fact of the matter is that Mariam gave her life to better someone else’s. That is the strongest act anyone can ever perform. It is a show a faith in a higher being leading to a sense of peace, when at the end of the day, that is all someone needs, faith. Despite tremendous hardship and difficulties, the women are displayed as having a powerful inner strength.