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Major Works – AP Lit Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Author:  Khaled Hosseini

Date of Publication:  May 22, 2007

Genre: Historical Fiction

Biographical information about the author (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):

 Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. He is A U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

Information about the literary period (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):

A Thousand Splendid Suns came out about a decade ago, so there isn’t much to say about literary time period, as its modern day. It is based on real historical events in Afghanistan. Sometimes, the current literary time period is called Post- Postmodernism.

Plot summary:
Mariam grows up outside Herat, a small city in Afghanistan in the 19600’s. She lives with her mother, Nana, and is visited once a week by her father Jalil, who is a successful businessman, she is his only illegitimate child. Mariam wants to have a greater part in Jalil’s life, and asks to see Pinocchio for her 15th birthday. He agrees, but never comes to get her. She walks to his home, which she has never visited, and is not let inside, she so sleeps on the street. Her mother warns her not to go, but she leaves anyway. The next day, the driver takes her home, and they find her mother has hanged herself. After the funeral, she goes to Jalil’s home, where he and his wives force her to marry Rasheed, and older widow from Kabul. He intends for her to replace the son who died years ago, but after facing several miscarriages, he beings to treat her cruelly. In the same neighborhood, Laila grows up, a young, intelligent girl. The war kills her two older brothers. Laila and her best friend Tariq fall in love as teenagers, Tariq and his family flee to Pakistan. The day Laila’s family decides to leave, a bomb hits their house, killing her parents. Rasheed and Mariam nurse Laila back to health and after she recovers, a stranger, Abdul Sharif brings her news that Tariq has died. Devastated and realizing she’s pregnant with Tariq’s child, Laila agrees to marry Rasheed. Mariam is initially hurt and threatened by Laila’s presence and refuses to have anything to do with her. However, after Laila gives birth to a daughter, Aziza, the women come to see themselves as allies against Rasheed’s abusive, manipulative ways. A few years later, Laila gives birth to a son, Zalmai. Then, one afternoon, after years of abuse and sadness, Laila is shocked to see a man standing at her front door: Tariq. Rasheed fins out and beats Laila. With a shovel, Mariam kills Rasheed. The next day, Mariam turns herself over to the Taliban in an effort to clear the way for Laila to find sanctuary for herself and her children in Pakistan with Tariq. Laila visits Mariam’s old home and is able to come to terms with her grief over Mariam’s execution. Laila and Tariq build a new life in Kabul: Laila becomes a schoolteacher at the orphanage where Aziza once lived. And when Laila becomes pregnant, she decides that if she has a girl, she’ll name her Mariam.

Memorable quotations significant to meaning:

  1. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion—like the phantom pain of an amputee.
  2. These women were—what was the word Rasheed had used?—”modern.” Yes, modern Afghan women married to modern Afghan men who did not mind that their wives walked among strangers with makeup on their faces and nothing on their heads.
  3. To me, it’s nonsense—and very dangerous nonsense at that—all this talk of I’m a Tajik and you’re a Pashtun and he’s Hazara and she’s Uzbek. We’re all Afghans, and that’s all that should matter.
  4. She understood what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance. 
  5. She picked up ten pebbles and arranged them vertically, in three columns. […] She put four pebbles in the first column, for Khadija’s children, three for Afsoon’s, and three in the third column for Nagis’s children. Then she added a fourth column. A solitary, eleventh pebble.

Significance of opening scene:

The opening scene depicts Mariam, the first time her mother calls her a “harami” – literally “bastard child”. The word harami marks Mariam as an illegitimate child, and the way her mother says it to her, makes Mariam feel unworthy of things like love, a family, or a home, a recurring feeling throughout the novel, as she attempts to escape the sting and stigma of what she is. 

Significance of closing scene:

In the closing scene, Laila, Tariq, Aziza, and Zalmai have found the better life Mariam sacrificed herself for. Laila is a schoolteacher, and once again pregnant. The family debates baby names, but only for boys, as Laila has already decided that a girl will be named “Mariam”, showing that Mariam’s sacrifice was not in vain, and that happiness was in deed possible.


 Name /  Role in the story and significance  / Adjectives

  1. Mariam – Mariam is one of two female protagonists. Born out of wedlock to a rich and married businessman (Jalil) and his former housekeeper (Nana). After her mother’s suicide at 15, her father forces her into an arranged marriage. Mariam is plagued by guilt that controls her for much of her life, which contributes to her tolerance at being married to the abusive Rasheed. Mariam’s inability to have children turns her into a resentful, bitter, and fearful woman. Through her love for Laila and Laila’s children, Mariam is able to fulfill her wish to be a mother and to finally give and receive love. She eventually sacrifices her life for theirs, turning herself in to the Taliban after killing Rasheed.
  2. Laila – Laila the second female protagonist, is the youngest child and only daughter of Hakim and Fariba. Laila has a strong desire to use her intelligence and education to improve the world around her. Laila falls in love with her best friend since childhood, Tariq. Him and his family flee to Pakistan, and days later, a bomb kills Laila’s parents. Rasheed and Mariam take her in, and Rasheed marries her as well, hoping she can give him a child. Laila decides to marry Rasheed in order to give her unborn child by Tariq a father. At the end, when she and Tariq are reunited and expecting another child, she plans to name the child after Mariam if it is a girl.
  3. Rasheed – Rasheed is a widowed shoemaker whose first wife and son died many years before his marriage to 15-year-old Mariam. Rasheed is constrictive and, upon Mariam’s multiple miscarriages, cruel. He is demanding, and easily angered. With Zalmai, Rasheed is patient, loving, kind, and gentle. Eventually result in Mariam kills him in self-defense.
  4. Tariq – Tariq grows up near Laila in Kabul. He lost his leg to a landmine when he’s very young. He and Laila are best friends as children and become lovers as teenagers. Upon his reunion with Laila, he learns of his daughter Aziza, and after marrying Laila and moving her to Pakistan, Tariq takes care of Zalmai as if he was his own son.
  5. Jalil – Mariam’s father and a wealthy businessman, Jalil abandons Mariam, his only illegitimate child, at his wives’ wishes. Years later, he finds Mariam to express his deep regret for her childhood and his love for her.


Afghanistan from the early 1960s to the early 2000s.


Pinocchio –

Mariam wants to go see Pinocchio with her father for her 15th birthday, and his failure to take her sets off the chain of events that leads to Nana’s suicide and Mariam’s marriage to Rasheed. It is the end of her relationship with Jalil. It is also the olive branch he extends her, as the movie is found in the box Laila is given by Mullah Faizullah’s son.

Themes for discussion:

Family –

Family plays a large role in the novel. Laila is very close with her family, whereas Mariam barely knows hers do to her status as an illegitimate child. Much of Mariam’s life is spent in search for a family, and she faces miscarriage, after miscarriage, constantly denying her that, until Laila and Aziza.

Women in Society –

The women in Afghanistan face strict standards, though when Mariam first arrives in Kabul there are many with a “more modern” view of how a woman can dress or act, especially when the war comes to Kabul, treatment of women takes a turn for the worst, and more traditionally conservative.

War –

Most of the problems and changes that plague Kabul are a result of war, first civil war and then American invasion. These problems include bombings, killings, and strict enforcing of laws and regulations of what woman can and cannot do. All based on historical fact.

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