Archive for the ‘Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns’ Category

Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns

November 1, 2009

About the author: Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini was born in 1965 in Kabul where his father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at a large high school for girls in Kabul. Hosseini is the oldest of five children. After the 1978 coup and the subsequent Russian invasion, the family fled Afghanistan for the United States, receiving political asylum in 1980. They settled in San Jose, California, where his father found work as a driving instructor. Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California (San Diego), where he earned a Medical degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004.

While medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in march 2001. The Kite Runner (published in 2003) has been met with great critical and popular acclaim. It was translated into 40 different languages, published in 48 countries and sold seven million times. So it became an international bestseller. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency.

His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns (the book I worked with), was published in 2007 and in 40 countries.

Khaled Hosseini has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

He lives with his wife and two children in Northern California.

An interesting link:

Part 1 (p. 3 – p. 103):

The first part of the book A Thousand Splendid Suns is a first-person-narration with Mariam as narrator.

The story begins when Mariam is five years old and the reader learns a lot about Mariam’s character, her feelings, wishes and fears.

Mariam lives with her mother Nana in a kolba, a small remote cottage, near the city Herat in Afghanistan. She lives without father, because Mariam is a so-called harami, an illegitimate child. Her father, Jalil, is a rich men with three wives and nine legitimate children. Nana used to be one of his housekeepers, but as soon as her belly began to swell, Jalil build the kolba and brought Nana away.

Nana isn’t a strong character at all. She needs Mariam around her all the time. Sometimes she has weird attacks. Mariam describes these attacks as “a jinn in her body”, but the reader can guess that Nana’s disease is a mixture of depression and epilepsy.

Jalil visits Mariam every Thursday. Mariam herself really likes these visits but Nana bad-mouthes everything Jalil does or says. She expects more of a rich father than visiting the child once a week.

Nana and Jalil always tell Mariam different versions of the past, so Mariam doesn’t really know who she can believe.

Mariam’s monotone life in the kolba sometimes is interrupted when Mullah Faizullah, an old man and Mariam’s teacher, comes. He’s not only a teacher, but also a friend to Mariam.

Short before Mariam turnes 15 (in 1975), she expresses the wish to go to the cinema with Jalil. Nana is absolutely against this idea, because she doesn’t want Mariam to leave. But Jalil promises to pick Mariam up. He doesn’t. So Mariam decides to hit the road to Jalil’s house in Herat. It is the first time she sees Jalil’s property. At the front door, Mariam said that she is Jalil’s daughter. Jalil’s driver counters that Jalil isn’t at home and he himself can’t let her in. Mariam decides to wait. She waits outside the door for the entire night. The next morning, the driver opens again and offers to bring her home. At that moment Mariam could see Jalil’s face behind a window for an instant. She cries and is really disappointed. The driver brought Mariam back to the kolba but when she arrives there, she discovere Nana hanging in a tree – she committed suicide. Mariam is desperate and sad. Jalil takes her to his house, but Mariam’s feeling towards him changed. She gets an own room and wants to stay there the most time.

One day, Jalil and his wives talk to Mariam about a very importand thing: she has a suitor who Mariam shall marry the next day. He is called Rasheed, is about 45 and lives in Kabul. Mariam is shocked and horror-stricken that Jalil can let this happen.

During the ceremonie, Mariam can smell Rasheed before he sees him. His appearance is described disgustingly. Mariam is so disappointed about Jalil that she answers yes.

Arrived in Kabul, Mariam feels like a stranger and cries a lot. Rasheed can’t stand that. Mariam is always scared of the first night she has to spend with Rasheed. She does all the housework. Most of the neighbours put her under pressure to have a baby as soon as possible. The only neighbour Mariam likes is Fariba, a women with small children.

One day, Rasheed wants to show Mariam around but she has to wear a burqa. That day there is a quite good atmosphere between Mariam and Rasheed. But the following night, Rasheed rapes Mariam for the first time. This act is described disgustingly and painful.

Rasheed is always moody and agressive. One of these days Mariam finds a gun in Rasheed’s dresser and a pornographic magazine. Mariam is shocked but she tries to find excuses for his behaviour.

After a while Mariam is pregnant, but she looses the baby. All in all, Mariam has six abortions and that makes Rasheed even more agressive. Mariam is very sad and can’t see the wealth of other women with children like for example Fariba with her new and beautiful baby Laila.

With Rasheed, Mariam always lives in fear and under pressure. He often injures her.

Impressions: While reading the first part of the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns I was always completely sunken. I immediately developed a relation to Mariam. I could really feel with her. I admire her for her strength. She didn’t have an easy childhood at all, but in spite of everything she always tries to find solutions. I can imagine that living with a sick mother like Nana is very difficult. Mariam was mostly confined indoors, so she didn’t grew up under the same conditions like other children. When she was younger, Mariam was always turned between her mother Nana and her father Jalil. I could really feel the tension between these three persons. For a child it’s never easy to stand between the parents, so I could really understand, that Mariam wants to please both.

Sometimes I was angry with Nana because she was severe with Mariam and sometimes I was angry with Jalil because he never took her to his home and doesn’t treat Mariam like his other children..

When Nana committed suicide, I could imagine how Mariam reproached herself, because she went away.

I can’t understand at all how Jalil could allow the old and disgusting Rasheed to marry the virgin Mariam. Probably he saw a huge burden in Mariam. I nearly always felt pity with Mariam.

Concerning the life with Rasheed, I sometimes thought that Mariam isn’t brave enough. I often thought that Mariam could resist Rasheed but Khaled Hosseini expresses the women’s situation in Afghanistan and how they often are oppressed by men.

Mariam is alone and very young and I think that’s why she just accepts her destiny.

I really liked reading this first part. The plot was very touching and I as a girl could absolutely understand Mariam’s feelings and hopes.

Part 2 (p. 107 – p. 189):

Part 2 of A Thousand Splendid Suns presents the second protagonist Laila and her life. Laila is the youngest child of Fariba, Rasheed’s and Mariam’s neighbour. But their ways don’t cross for now.The plot starts in 1987 and is told by an omniscient narrator.

Laila is different from other girls in Afghanistan, because she has blond, curled hair and turquoise green eyes. Laila is nine years old and likes spending time with her very best friend Tariq. Tariq has one artificial leg, because he once stepped on a landmine.

Laila lives with her parents, is very close to her father, but her mother stays in bed all the time. The mother is unhappy because the two sons (Laila’s brothers) are in war. Her father does everything for Laila to become an educated and independent woman.

One day, on the way back home from school, Laila is threatened by a boy with a gun. She knows him and she has never been in danger before, because Tariq always protects her. But at this time, Laila is alone. At home, Laila tries to talk to her mother about that incident, but she doesn’t listen – like she never does.

Laila spends a lot of time at Tariq’s house, loves his family and his family loves her.

Some time later, a stranger comes to Laila’s family. She was sent upstairs but could get the stranger’s message: her brothers died in war. Laila is sorry for her parents but she isn’t sad – she never really got to know her brothers, she was too young when they left. Since the death of Laila’s brothers, the state of her mother got worse and Laila is scared that she could commit suicide.

In 1989 Laila is eleven years old and you can guess that she fell in love with Tariq. Tariq likes her as well. But Laila’s mother says, that Laila shouldn’t spend that more time with Tariq to protect the reputition of her family. The mother thinks that the people whisper about that kind of friendship.

In Kabul there are more and more rocket blasts and different attacks. Laila only goes out accompanied by Tariq, who bought a gun. All of a sudden, they kiss and touch each other.

Laila’s father always wants to leave Kabul and dreams of an Afghan restaurant in the United States of America, but Laila’s mother doesn’t want to leave, she wants to wait for peace.

Unexpected, Tariq tells Laila that he will leave Afghanistan to Pakistan. His father had a heart attack and can’t stand the bombings.Tariq offers Laila to come with them and to marry him, but she wants to stay with her parents. Before Tariq leaves, they have sex for the first time. Laila is totally unhappy without Tariq.

Only a few weeks later, Laila’s parents decide to leave Kabul as well. Laila has the hope to find Tariq in Pakistan. Laila’s family sells the things they don’t need in Pakistan. When Laila carries things out of the house, there is another bombing which destroys the family’s house. The parents are inside and are killed immediately, Laila is in the yard and is injured. She is saved by a man and a women: Rasheed and Mariam.

Impressions: When the second part of the novel finishes, the lives of the two women Mariam and Laila cross.

I like Laila’s character. She’s a nice and a quite modern girl. She has a wonderful best friend, Tariq, who does everything for her. Even when they were children, I really hoped that they will fall in love later and expected a happy ending of this lovestory. But I was disappointed when Tariq left. It would have been too easy…

I can see parallels between Mariam’s and Laila’s childhood concerning the role of their mothers. Both mothers are a kind of depressive and don’t look after their daughters.

Laila seems to be intelligent on the one hand (she’s very well educated) but on the other hand she seems to be naive. She really thinks that she can find Tariq in Pakistan, in masses of refugees.

Khaled Hosseini intersperses facts and aspects of the Afghan history. This is really interesting but secondary.

Laila’s father’s attitute towards women really amazed me. After the bad experiences I and Mariam have made with men in this book (Rasheed, Jalil), I was enthusiastic about this positive father. And in the end of this part, I was so sorry for Laila that she lost him.

Part 3 (p. 193 – p. 265):

In this part, the chapters switch between the view of Mariam and the view of Laila. So the reader finds out the thoughts and feelings of both women.

After the bombing, Laila is badly injured. She stays in the house of Rasheed and Mariam and slowly gets better.

Some days later, a man comes to speak to Laila. He says that he met Tariq in a hospital in Pakistan. He pretends to have seen how badly injured Tariq was and how he died. But the man should deliver the message that Tariq loves Laila. Laila is incredibly sad and desperate.

Mariam recognizes that Rasheed’s behaviour became better since Laila is in the house and she has a premonition about Rasheed’s plan: he wants to marry Laila. Mariam is absolutely against this intention. She regards Laila as too young and Rasheed as too old (Rasheed is over 60 and Laila about 15). In addition, Mariam is, even if Mariam doesn’t like Rasheed, a bit jealous.

Laila has no foothold in life, doesn’t see a way out and agrees to the marriage. As she notices that she is pregnant, she wants to marry as soon as possible to hide that her baby is from Tariq and illegitimate. Rasheed is nuts about Laila.

In the eyes of Mariam, Laila is annoying. Rasheed wants a proper family and instructs Mariam to do what Laila wants. The women give each other a wide berth. Laila isn’t allowed to go out on her own as well and from time to time there are conflicts between the three: Rasheed, Mariam and Laila. Laila always thinks about Tariq.

Laila gives birth to a girl called Aziza. But Rasheed is disappointed that the baby is not a boy. He doesn’t like it. Laila and Rasheed often have arguments about Aziza. Rasheed is convinced that Mariam incites Laila. He gives Mariam the guilt for everything and tortures her with his belt.

Laila really loves Aziza, because she sees Tariq in her. Over the baby, Laila and Mariam start to get in contact. They even start to have “tea sessions”.

Rasheed always doubts the fatherhood to Aziza and makes hidden comments about that. He expresses his frustration in physical violence towards Mariam, Laila and even the baby Aziza.

Between Mariam and Laila a strong friendship results. They even have the plan to run away and decide to carry this plan out. When Rasheed isn’t at home, they take a taxi to the bus station. Everywhere stand men with Kalashnikovs. The women feel intimidated. At the bus station they have to find a man who pretends to be a family member of them. Otherwise they aren’t allowed to receive tickets at this time in Afghanistan. A men offers his help but when it was time to board he gives a clue to one of the guards. The women are brought to an interview-room and had to answer a lot of questions. Mariam and Laila have fear. Fear of the guards (they heard of numerous killings in Kabul) and fear of Rasheed’s reaction. Then they are brought home. At first, Rasheed tortures them (even Aziza), then he locks Laila and Aziza in a dark, hot room and Mariam in the also dark and hot toolshed. He doesn’t bring them anything to eat or to drink for a few days. Laila is scared that Aziza could die. Anytime, he opens the doors without saying a word.

Impressions: While reading this part, I didn’t want to stop. It was so interesting and full of emotions and tension.

When the man with the news of Tariq’s dead came, I was shocked. But his appearance and Rasheed’s unusual behaviour made me suspicious. I wanted to speak to Laila and say that she must not marry Rasheed, this digusting and violent idiot, and that everything will be fine in a while. But like Mariam, Laila was in a desperate situation and agreed to the marriage. This fact and others let me compare Mariam to Laila again and I found out, that they are often very similar. And that doesn’t let me understand why they cannot abide each other in the beginning. Mariam should be happy to have female support at home. All the more I was confident to see their friendship growing.

Laila noticed that she is pregnant from Tariq and so she took the easiest solution to hide this secret. She married Rasheed. Her pregnancy was a consolation for me. I knew that she has an aim and a connection to Tariq.

When the women decided to run away I really kept my fingers across, but I could guess that it would go wrong – I don’t know why. And I suffered when they were treated like in prison. I was, like Laila, scared that Aziza could die. And I didn’t understand Rasheed, why he detests the baby that much.

Part 4 (p. 266 – p. 361)

In 1996, the Taliban come to Kabul. Rasheed welcomes them. Since then, there are new and strict rules in Kabul, especially for women.

Laila is pregnant and suffers from a horrible treatment in hospital. There isn’t enough medecine, so the doctors make a ceasarian without anesthesia. She has a boy who is called Zalmai and looks similar to Rasheed. Zalmai is everything to Rasheed. Rasheed pampers him and doesn’t care about Aziza at all.

In a fight, Laila suddenly hits Rasheed, as a result he threatens the women with his gun.

Rasheed’s job is a bad deal and he has to borrow money. They have to sell things. They can’t even buy food, so they have to steal (what is really dangerous under the Taliban). Zalmai always gets most of the food in the family. Mariam calls Jalil to ask for money, but she hears that he is dead. The family is very poor, so Rasheed decides that Aziza has to leave. She was sent to an orphanage. Laila and Mariam, whose hearts are broken because of that, could only visit her when Rasheed was in the mood to accompany them. Aziza learns a lot in the orphanage but she becomes stunted. Rasheed finds a new job as doorman in a hotel.

One day, when Rasheed isn’t at home, a man stands at the door. It’s Tariq. Laila is completely overwhelmed. Mariam looks after Zalmai upstairs while Laila talks to Tariq. Tariq says that he was in prison all the time. Now Laila knows that the man who informed her about Tariq’s “death” was arranged by Rasheed to make her marry him. She informs Tariq about Aziza. He is very happy to have a daughter. When the family has dinner, Zalmai tells on Rasheed about Tariq’s visit. Mariam and Laila try to trivialize it but Rasheed is angry like never before.

In a serious fight, he hits his belt at the women again and again. Then he starts to gag on Laila’s throat. When Mariam realized, that he is going to kill Laila, Mariam kills Rasheed with a shovel. They don’t tell the truth about Rasheed’s absence to Zalmai. The women hide Rasheed’s body in the toolshed and know that they have to leave now. Mariam decides to stay, because the Taliban would kill the whole family if they find a dead husband and two missing wives. With this idea, Mariam wants to protect Laila and the children. The farewell is painful and sad for everyone.

Impressions: The new rules under the Taliban I mentioned made me gloomy, because they make an escape from Rasheed even more difficult and dangerous. When Laila had Zalmai, I was astonished how strong she is. First because of the painful birth and secondly because Zalmai is Rasheed’s child. I couldn’t imagine that Laila can love Zalmai like she loves Aziza, but she loves both children like only a mother can love. Of course she is disappointed that Rasheed doesn’t care about Aziza, but she has no chance to change it and just tries to give Aziza a lot of affection.

Rasheed’s unfair treatment towards the children made me angry. And it made me also angry with Zalmai – being the “king” of the family is always so naturally for him.

When Rasheed sent Aziza to the orphanage, I could absolutely comprehend Laila’s and Mariam’s despair. For Aziza it must have been an emotional collapse, especially because Zalmai could stay at home. But she seems to be insistent.

And suddenly Tariq’s visit: I can’t describe my happiness about his return. But at the same time I was a bit furious, because Laila wasted her time with Rasheed. But the happiness overbalanced.

The fight in which Rasheed was killed wasn’t anything new at first. But when he tried to kill Laila I knew that the situation escalated like never before. I was scared and stiffed. Actually, a murder is in each case something terrible and inexcusable. But when Mariam killed Rasheed, I was about to cheer. She finally got over her oppressed life and did Laila and the children a favour. But the “victory” didn’t last for a long time. Mariam faced the problem: The Taliban would kill the entire family when they find a killed husband whose wives are gone. So she decided to stay and stand by the murder. This decision hurts but it makes Mariam in my eyes a hero. She gives Laila and her children the chance of an expected flight.


That’s the point where I want to stop with my summary of the content of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Now you got to know the characters and the main plot without knowing the ending of the story. I think the story is really touching, interesting and suspenseful. I can absolutely recommand this novel. It’s not only a presentation of destinies, but also information about living conditions in Afghanistan. A Thousand Splendid Suns includes a lot of different topics: e.g. relations between children and parents, despair, sadness, violence but also friendship, love and a lot more.

I loved reading this book, because it is written in a fluently, attractive style and tells a heartbreaking story. Comparing Hosseini’s firts novel The Kite Runner to A Thousand Splendid Suns I do even prefer A Thousand Splendid Suns.

If you want to know the ending of the story without reading the book, you can ask me of course.

I hope you enjoyed reading my entries, Kathrin.