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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. He's also well aware that she isn't his biological child.
  • Arranged Marriage: Rasheed and Mariam.
  • Asshole Victim: Rasheed. Mariam murdering him was definitely well-deserved from what he did to her and Laila.
  • 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.
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  • Babies Ever After: Laila marries Tariq and at the end of the book she's pregnant with their second child.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight with Laila and Tariq. Mariam, on the other hand, is a Plain Jane, but is also a good person. Rasheed’s unattractive inside and out.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted by Laila. Due to her hard life and Rasheed's abuse, she looks older than her years, has lines and missing teeth. Tariq too looks pretty rough after ten years in a refugee camp and/or prison. Both still find the other beautiful anyway.
  • Belated Love Epiphany: A familial example with Jalil towards Mariam. By the time he realizes just how much he loves and appreciates Mariam, she refuses to ever see or speak to him out of resentment over him rejecting her for being illegitimate and forcing her to marry Rasheed. Even more tragically Mariam herself dies never knowing that her father truly loved her and regretted his poor treatment of her.
  • Big Damn Reunion: Laila and Tariq reunite after nine years.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Rasheed acts like this towards Laila when the two stories combine, nursing her back to health from the bombing along with Mariam and treating her with great care and respect. Both Mariam and the readers can tell it's all an act. He drops it once Laila gives birth to a daughter instead of a son.
    • The man that Laila and Mariam decide to trust to help them escape the country. He acts very friendly and helpful only to betray them at the last minute.
  • 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 eventually 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 and becomes a teacher there, 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.
  • Child by Rape:
    • Mariam becomes pregnant repeatedly after being raped by Rasheed. However, she never gives birth because she miscarries all of her pregnancies. Mariam is actually devastated by this, as her hope of becoming a mother is one of the few bright spots in her life, and the miscarriages cause Rasheed to grow increasingly cold towards her.
    • Zalmai, whom Laila becomes pregnant with after being raped by Rasheed. She seriously considers an abortion but decides not to go through with it at the last moment. She's afraid she won't be able to love Zalmai because of this, but is relieved to find that she does love him just as much her daughter Aziza; Laila regards Zalmai as innocent in the "war" between her and Rasheed.
  • 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.
  • Daddy's Girl: Mariam was this in her childhood, always defending Jalil against Nana and wanting nothing more than to be accepted into his family. Laila is also shown to have a much closer and loving relationship with her father than she does with her mother. And in the end, Aziza is shown to be one for Tariq, what with the two of them finishing each other's sentences and knowing what the other needs without being asked.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Old Man: Rasheed, who at around sixty lusts after and marries a fourteen-year-old girl.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Tariq to Laila; he lost one of his legs to a landmine as a child and wears a prothesis. It doesn’t bother Laila at all, though at one point she gets upset when he talks about the occasional physical discomfort it causes. She also hates it when people refer to Tariq as a "cripple" and fiercely defends him. When Tariq finds out Laila has been bullied by a local boy, he removes his prosthetic leg and uses it to beat up the bully to defend her honor. After they're reunited, he also starts getting migraines (possibly as a side effect of PTSD), and Laila stays up with him at night when they strike, holding him and trying to comfort him.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Laila is blonde and very pretty, though subverted later on, as she looks pretty rough due to living in poverty and being constantly beaten by her husband.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Mariam willingly turns herself in for murdering Rasheed in order to ensure that Laila and Tariq can leave Kabul safely.
  • Fat Bastard: Rasheed is described as being "thick-bellied".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Laila and Mariam start off hating each other, but begin to bond in the face of Rasheed’s abuse of them both.
  • Foreshadowing: While cleaning Rasheed's room shortly after they get married, 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 a loving and progressive father. 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, a girl who said abusive man knows isn't his child. 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.
    • In the moment, though, she considers performing the abortion on herself. At home. With a bicycle spoke.
  • Happily Married:
    • Laila's parents were once, though her mother's withdrawal puts a strain on the marriage.
    • In the end, Laila and Tariq get married and have a very happy and loving relationship in spite of their trauma.
  • Heel Realization: The incident that makes Laila's mother agree to leaving Afghanistan is when Laila is nearly killed via a gunshot that hit mere inches from her head.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Rasheed, often crossing over with a horribly realistic version of a Straw Misogynist. The guy's happy when Sharia law takes over and a woman can be beaten for just about any reason.
  • Heroic Bastard:
    • Mariam is one of the main protagonists and we're informed early on that she was born out of wedlock. She's shunned by many people because of this, though she proves herself one of the noblest characters in the story.
    • Aziza, Laila's daughter. She's a sweet and mature young girl, who was conceived when Tariq and Laila slept together.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mariam allows herself to be executed for Rasheed's murder so that Laila, Tariq and their children can leave Kabul and live peaceful lives.
  • Hey, You!:
    • As their marriage goes strained, Laila's mother doesn't call her husband by his name of other affectionate pet names like she used to do, but spitefully calls him instead "cousin", which they literally are.
    • After their attempted escape, Rasheed doesn't even call Mariam and Laila by their names, addressing them more like dogs or servants. Even before that, he never calls Aziza her name, instead just referring to her as "the baby" or "that thing".
  • Hope Spot: So, so many. Perhaps the most painful is the chapter where Mariam, Laila, and Aziza make an escape attempt that falls apart at the last moment when a man they ask for help betrays them.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Rasheed constantly reminds Mariam about the importance of maintaining his honour and makes her wear a burqa when she leaves the house. But it's fine for him to lust after a fourteen-year-old girl and look at pornographic magazines.
    • After years of neglect, Laila's mother thinks she has the right to dictate how she dresses and how she goes about her friendship with Tariq. Laila even acknowledges this in-universe.
  • Irony: Laila is happy to see the Taliban taking over, thinking that it'll end the violence and suffering. It doesn't.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Even Miriam has to agree with Rasheed in regards to the Taliban forcing women to stay home: he's made them do it for years, what's going to stop the Taliban from doing the same thing?
    • And though Laila feels her mother has no right in telling her, even she concedes to her mother's warning that her and Tariq's relationship is seen very differently now that the two of them have grown up.
  • Kick the Dog: Rasheed has many of these moments. To start with, constantly telling Mariam to shut up or calling her stupid simply for asking him questions.
  • Kissing Cousins: Laila's parents are first cousins.
  • 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, and, despite even going through a bombing while pregnant, has a complete and healthy pregnancy.
  • 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 and Laila even refer to themselves as mother and daughter when talking with strangers.
  • Left Hanging: One chapter has Laila stand up to Rasheed by down right punching him. In retaliation, Rasheed gets his gun and shoves it into Laila's mouth. The chapter ends here, and we're not told what happened afterwards.
  • 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.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Laila tries to pass Aziza off as Rasheed's, only agreeing to marry him so she and her baby will be supported. However, it later turns out that Rasheed had suspected all along Aziza wasn't his. It's unclear what he would've done if Aziza had been a son.
  • 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.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: Although they're both adults for much of the second half of the story, Mariam and Laila are preteens and/or teenagers in the first half: Mariam is almost fifteen at the start of Part One and is a teenager for most of it, while Laila is nine at the beginning of Part Two and fourteen by the end. The book is about the wars in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban, and starkly depicts all the associated suffering and trauma the characters go through. It also highlights the sexism present in Afghanistan's society, which only worsens under the Taliban; notably, Laila and Mariam are both forced to marry an abusive older man when they're under the age of sixteen, and get pregnant in their teens.
  • Meaningful Name: Laila's name means "Night beauty" - she is notably very pretty and was born at night.
  • Mistaken for Suicidal: Laila worries that her mother is suicidal following the news of her sons' deaths. Her mother admits that while she thought about it, she decided she would rather live to see her sons' dream of a free Afghanistan come true.
  • Morality Pet: Zalmai to Rasheed. He's the only family member he treats well.
  • New Old Flame: Despite not having seen each other for ten years, Laila and Tariq are still very much in love when they reunite and, as soon as Rasheed is dealt with, immediately marries one another.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. As Laila and Mariam are moving Rasheed’s body after Mariam kills him, Laila mentions the front of his pants are wet, presumably with urine.
  • No Woman's Land: Once the Taliban take over, things get really bad for women in Afghanistan (and they weren't that great to begin with). Women are banned from driving, working or getting an education. They're not allowed to wear make-up, with women caught wearing nail polish losing a finger. They must wear burqas when they go outside and can only leave the house accompanied by a male relative. They are expected to be subservient to either their fathers or husbands, and put up with horrible treatment such as abuse, forced marriages, forced pregnancies, being treated like slaves and so on. When Mariam turns herself in for killing Rasheed, she tries to argue that Rasheed had horribly abused them for years and would've killed Laila if she hadn't acted, most of the judges dismiss this (although one shows her some sympathy).
  • Open-Minded Parent: Unlike most other men in Afghanistan, Laila's father wants her to pursue an education and hold off on getting married until she does so.
    • Tariq also proves to be this, being over the moon when he finds out about Aziza's existence. Laila even notices the sheer contrast of his reaction in comparison to Rasheed's.
  • Parental Favoritism: Rasheed is neglectful at best to Aziza because she's a girl and not his biological daughter, and he knows it. Instead he adores Zalmai, but spoils him rotten doing him no favour to his upbringing and the family to their food and financial situation.
  • 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.
    • Rasheed is really affectionate to his son, Zalmai, though it's no surprise as he finally gets the son he wanted while his wives and daughter continues to be of no worth to him. There's also the issue that a lot of the presents he buys for Zalmai come at the expense of the rest of his family during a time when money is extremely tight.
    • The Taliban officer who escorts Mariam to her execution. He offers her some consolation and tells her that being afraid of what's about to happen to her is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Rare Taliban example. The leader judge of the Taliban court that convict Mariam for Rasheed's murder is polite and respectful and correctly guesses that Rasheed had it coming and that Mariam wasn't a bad person. But he still has to condemn her to death.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Jalil tries to visit Mariam before his death, but Mariam refuses to see him and he dies without them being able to reconcile. 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.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal: A heart-wrenching example. After learning his family is moving away from Afghanistan because of the war, Laila ends up having sex with her childhood best friend, Tariq. Afterwards, he proposes they marry and leave together. She is seriously tempted, but can't bear the thought of leaving her parents behind, especially her father (he would stay out of loyalty to her mother, who stubbornly refuses to leave). In the end, she has to lock Tariq out of her house, crying, while he begs her to reconsider before promising to return for her. She subsequently finds out he died in a refugee camp and that she's pregnant with his child. Fortunately, years later it turns out he's actually alive and they finally get their happy ending.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The reason Rasheed wants a son so badly is to replace his first son, who drowned as a child.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: An unsettling example as Laila fears Rasheed knows, or at the least is suspicious that Aziza is not his daughter. It's not until the climax of the book that he admits to having figured it out.
  • Shotgun Wedding: A twist with Laila. She only agrees to marry Rasheed because she's pregnant with Tariq's baby in the middle of a war zone and knows that it's her only chance to keep herself and her child alive. She's also well aware that if she doesn't do it immediately Rasheed will grow suspicious, since she's already six weeks pregnant by this point.
    • Shortly after Nana's death, Jalil hastily gives Mariam away to Rasheed in order to get her out of the household.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, which fifteen-year-old Mariam wanted her father to take her to see. In the end, Laila finds a letter and money from Jalil, apologising for being such a crappy father, along with a copy of ''Pinocchio''.
    • Titanic, which the citizens of Kabul watch in secret due to it being banned by the Taliban. Laila in particular seems to identify with it due to the similarities between herself and Tariq, and Rose and Jack. Later, after the Taliban fall from power, for Aziza’s birthday the family goes to the cinema to legally watch Titanic for the first time.
    • Superman, which Zalmai becomes a fan of. He actually wants to name Laila’s new baby – if it’s a boy – Clark, and can’t understand why that name is considered inappropriate for an Afghan boy.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Aziza is this. Later becomes a Subverted Trope when it is revealed that her father is alive after all.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Mariam, definitely, considering that the person she kills is her vile and horribly abusive husband, to stop him from killing Laila. In fact, the severity of her crime gets her admiration and awe from her fellow inmates in prison, all of whom are in prison for the common crime of "running away".
  • Teen Pregnancy: Both Mariam and Laila have this as they get pregnant at 15 years old and 14 years old respectively, at different points in the book. Laila is still a teenager when she has her second child, Zalmai.
  • Their First Time: Laila and Tariq lose their virginity to each other as teenagers, both out of a desire for each other, but also because of the war and Tariq leaving, making them afraid they might not see each other again for a while, if ever.
  • Title Drop: Courtesy of Laila's father.
  • Top Wife: Rasheed blatantly favours his second wife Laila over his first Mariam, as she's younger, prettier and more likely to give him the son he wants (Mariam was never able to carry a pregnancy to term). Rasheed even sells off Mariam's wedding band to buy a better one for Laila. Mariam initially resents Laila for this, not because she has any affection for Rasheed but because after spending years being abused and belittled by Rasheed she's now expected to wait hand and foot on his new wife. However, things change when Laila gives birth to a daughter instead of a son and spends all her time doting upon the baby, all but ignoring Rasheed. When Laila stops Rasheed from beating Mariam, the two wives become increasingly close, with Laila confiding she only married Rasheed to give her unborn child a home and she never wanted to supplant Mariam. Rasheed grows to despise both his wives, though ironically it is Laila who bears the brunt of his abuse because she frequently stands up to him or tries to fight back, while Mariam tries to keep her head down.
  • Traumatic C-Section: When Laila gives birth to her second child, her baby is in the breach position and so she needs a C-section to save its life. Unfortunately, the women’s hospital has limited supplies and so they will have to do it without anaesthesia. Laila’s response? “Cut me open and give me my baby.” Mariam is with her the whole time and thinks to herself how much she admires Laila for the amount of time that passes before she starts screaming in pain.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Rasheed with Laila. He's described as being unattractive (both inside and outside), pot-bellied with a receding hairline and has poor hygiene. Laila is regarded as a Head-Turning Beauty and one of the reasons Rasheed marries her is because of her good looks.
  • 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.
  • Vague Age: Rasheed's exact age is never stated because he actually doesn't know how old he is. He's estimated to be in his early-to-mid forties when he marries Mariam.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: As a child, Mariam receives weekly visits from Jalil (he was never married to her mother, though were once lovers). She eventually invokes the inverted version and goes to visit him, only for him to refuse to see her. Shortly before his death, he tries to visit her one last time, but she refuses to see him.
  • 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.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: A rare example of it being the wives doing the bashing. Laila occasionally fights back against Rasheed's abuse and in one instance manages to punch him in the face. She later breaks a glass over his head to stop him beating Mariam, who in turn attacks Rasheed and ends up bludgeoning him with a shovel to stop him strangling Laila. A downplayed example would be Tariq. He never gets round to giving Rasheed a piece of his mind, but upon seeing the injuries Laila's husband has dealt her, he "coldly" remarks "He did this to you?" and Laila is reminded of the time he went after a boy for bullying her when they were kids.