Literature / A Thousand Splendid Suns

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There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school. Only one skill. And it's this: tahamul. Endure.
Nana, to her daughter Mariam

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a 2007 novel written by Khaled Hosseini, his second after The Kite Runner, and followed by And the Mountains Echoed. The story follows the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, and how they eventually intertwine, spanning from the 1960s to 2003.

After her mother's suicide, Mariam, a lowly harami is sent by her rich father to marry Rasheed, a shoemaker living in Kabul. She tries to get used to her new life, but after having many miscarriages, she is made miserable by Rasheed's growing abuse. Years later, the story moves to Laila, an educated girl who lives down the street from Mariam and Rasheed. When Laila is a teenager, her parents get killed by a rocket explosion and she is taken in by Mariam and Rasheed. Eager for a pretty young woman, Rasheed makes Laila his second wife. After some initial friction, Mariam and Laila eventually become best friends and confidantes, united against their common adversary, the abusive and manipulative Rasheed.

The book is divided into four parts: The first details Mariam's early life, the second details Laila's early life, the third details their lives together under Rasheed, and the fourth describes Laila's life after Mariam is executed for her murder of Rasheed.

You might need some tissues.
Provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mariam is abused and manipulated both verbally and emotionally by her mother. Laila is emotionally abused by her mother as well, though from neglect rather than aggression.
    • Rasheed has no problem hitting Aziza, mostly since she is a girl and therefore can't be a Replacement Goldfish for his dead son.
  • Adult Fear: Plenty of, as you would expect from a country cursed with decades of war.
    • Laila's mother loses both her sons.
    • Laila loses both her parents during a bombing raid and is left homeless, orphaned and then finds out she's pregnant. She then marries the disgusting jerkass Rasheed as her only chance to stay relatively safe with her child.
    • There's a horrifying scene after Giti dies where her mother has to collect pieces of her body.
    • Laila being forced to abandon her daughter because they don't have enough food. When Aziza is in the orphanage, Laila's only way to visit her is to go out illegally and risk being beaten nearly to death by the Taliban.
    • When Rasheed's shop is burnt down, all his family lose their only source of income and the book does a great job describing how they slowly start starving.
    • The Civil War is this and also a Paranoia Fuel. No one knows when and if their house will be bombed to the point that children drop school because it's too dangerous to even walk from block to block.
    • The Taliban regime and their absurdly inhuman laws that left thousands of people starving.
  • Arranged Marriage: Rasheed and Mariam.
  • Asshole Victim: Rasheed. Mariam murdering him was definitely well-deserved from what he did to her and Laila and it's definitely a cathartic Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • The Atoner: Jalil. As war eats his legit family up, he realizes how stupid he is for ditching Mariam. He travels to Kabul to try and make amends, but Mariam refuses to see him, and destroys the letter that he leaves for her. She eventually learns that he died about a month later. In the end, she never reads his last letter, which he left with Mullah Faizullah; Laila retrieves it from his son Hamza, along with Mariam's share of the inheritance and a videotape of Pinocchio.
  • Babies Ever After: Laila marries Tariq and at the end of the book she's pregnant with their second child.
  • Bittersweet Ending Mariam is executed for the murder of Rasheed, but her sacrifice allows Laila, her children and Tariq to live on in peace. Laila comes back to Afghanistan with her family and finds Jalil's last letter to Mariam, along with Mariam's rightful share of her father's inheritance. Laila spends the money on restructuring an orphanage, becomes a teacher and she's pregnant with a child she plans to name after Mariam if female.
  • Broken Pedestal: Jalil to Mariam. She left her kolba to travel all the way to his house in Herat. All she wanted was to see and spend time with him, and he shuts her away in fear of ruining his image of having a harami child. Then, after her mother Nana was Driven to Suicide, and after finally getting to be in her father's house, she was almost immediately set up in an Arranged Marriage with Rasheed. Mariam never forgives him for that...and she would never know the lengths he would go to make up for it because of that same abusive marriage she was set up with in the first place.
  • Call Forward: When Mariam signs her marriage contract with Rasheed, the book mentions that she would sign another contract 27 years later. That contract turns out to be her complying with her sentence to be executed for having killed Rasheed.
  • Canon Welding: Minor character Zaman, the orphanage director from The Kite Runner, reappears in this book.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Tariq and Laila. They were torn apart for years by Rasheed's lies but eventually get together for good.
  • Consummation Counterfeit: Laila cuts her finger the night she consummates her marriage and uses her blood to stain the sheets.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mullah Faizullah, Mariam's elderly tutor. He treats her kindly and respectfully, and teaches her scripture that brings her some comfort in her later life.
  • Crapsack World: Justified that this story explains in detail the Afghanistan Civil War through the perspective of two civilian women.
  • Darker and Edgier: Hosseini's previous bestseller, which featured a gang of boys anally raping a young child and a couple getting stoned to death, is practically a children's tale compared to A Thousand Splendid Suns.
  • Dead Guy Junior: At the end, it's implied that if Laila's third child is a girl, she will name her Mariam.
  • Death by Childbirth: Rasheed's first wife.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Mariam at first dislikes Laila until they bond over their misery at Rasheed's hands and the affection for Laila's daughter.
  • Does Not Like Men: Mariam's mother, due to her being the only one punished for having a bastard. It doesn't justify her views in Mariam's eyes, but when it gets to the point where a woman in Afghanistan can be jailed for practically any reason, Mariam knows that her mother had a right to be at least suspicious.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After decades of abuse and suffering Mariam murders Rasheed when he's strangling Laila.
  • Domestic Abuse: Rasheed starts with emotional abuse and then goes straight to physical violence.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mariam's mother, after she came to the conclusion that Mariam was abandoning her for her father.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Or Bittersweet Ending, really, but in the end Laila and her children end up having a satisfyingly good life. Too bad Mariam had to die to let it happen.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Mariam willingly turns herself for murdering Rasheed in order to ensure that Laila and Tariq can leave Kabul safely.
  • Fat Bastard: Rasheed is described as being "thick-bellied".
  • Foreshadowing: While cleaning Rasheed's room, Mariam finds a photo of Rasheed and his first wife and notices something off about the wife's pose, as if she is subtly trying to escape Rasheed.
    • Laila noting that she hated the whistling of the missiles even more than the sound of the explosion. It's what she hears first before her parents die.
  • From Bad to Worse: The whole story, regardless of character.
    • Mariam realizes her father is ashamed of her, then goes back home to find that her mother's killed herself. She's forced to marry a man who turns out to be abusive, and she can't have kids. And then, after years of abusive marriage, a younger wife comes along who she's supposed to treat like a master. As things get worse, she questions how she could ever find her father's shame to be the worst thing ever.
    • Laila starts off the happiest, in a home with loving and progressive parents. Then the village turns into a warzone, her parents die right before they're about to move, and she realizes she's pregnant with her lover's child. Said lover is presumed dead and she marries an abusive man who starts hating her once she gives birth to a girl. And then the Taliban take over...
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: When Laila finds out that she is pregnant with Zalmai, she is unsure if she can love Rasheed's child the same way she does Tariq's and considers aborting him, but is unable to go through with it.
  • Happily Married: Laila's were once, though her mother's withdrawal puts a strain on the marriage.
    • In the end, Laila and Tariq.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Rasheed, often crossing over with a horribly realistic version of a Straw Misognyist. The guy's happy when Sharia law takes over and a woman can be beaten for just about any reason.
  • Heroic Bastard: Mariam, and later, Aziza.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mariam allows herself to be executed for Rasheed's murder so that Laila and Tariq can leave Kabul.
  • Hope Spot: So, so many.
  • Irony: Laila is happy to see the Taliban taking over, thinking that it'll end the violence and suffering. It doesn't.
  • Kissing Cousins: Laila's parents.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mariam, who desperately wants a child, has seven miscarriages. Laila, on the other hand, unexpectedly gets pregnant her first time with Tariq.
  • Like A Daughter To Me: While Mariam bonds with Laila's daughter, who calls her khala (auntie), her Intergenerational Friendship with Laila is basically a mother-daughter one since Laila's mother did such poor parenting and Mariam couldn't have children of her own. Mariam even refers to Laila as her daughter when speaking with strangers.
  • Mama Bear: Laila, to both of her children. Mariam is the same way, even though the kids aren't hers.
    • Laila's mother believes she's carrying a torch for the memory of her sons by refusing to leave. Her reluctance inadvertently ends up getting both her and her husband killed.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Rasheed. To leave Laila no choice but to marry him, he hires a conman that fakes a dying dude and lies to Laila about Tariq's death.
    • Both of the main characters' mothers emotionally manipulate their children, too.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Laila's parents, with her mother being the physically tougher one and her father being the sensitive scholar.
  • Morality Pet: Zalmai to Rasheed.
  • No Woman's Land: Once the Taliban take over.
  • Parental Neglect: Rasheed to Aziza. And that's when he's being nice.
    • Laila's mother is so consumed with the loss of her sons that she often ignores the fact that she has a daughter.
  • Pet the Dog: Rasheed gives Aziza a stick of gum as a gift before she is sent to the orphanage.
  • Planning for the Future Before the End: A particularly heartbreaking version before Mariam turns herself in when Laila is telling her the stories of the life they will have once Mariam is freed. Laila knows that it could never happen, and that Mariam knows it as well, but lets her talk anyways for Laila's comfort.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Jalil tries to visit Mariam before his death. Laila later finds out that he left a sum of money for her as well as a copy of a movie that she'd begged him to take her to see.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The reason Rasheed wants a son so badly is to replace his first son, who drowned as a child.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Aziza is this. Later becomes a Subverted Trope when it is revealed that her father is alive after all.
  • Title Drop: Courtesy of Laila's father.
  • The Unfavorite: Both the protagonists are this in their families. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter her father is ashamed of, while Laila is neglected by her mother in favor of the memory of her deceased brothers.
    • Rasheed endlessly spoils Zalmai, but ignores or abuses Aziza because she's a female and because he has long guessed she's actually Tariq's daughter.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: As a child, Mariam receives weekly visits from Jalil.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Thanks to polygamy, Mariam had 3 of them, who pushed hard for her father to kick off Nana when pregnant with Mariam and when Nana dies are all too willing to get rid of Mariam herself for good.

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