Khaled Hosseini is one of the most admired Afghani authors of the 21st century. He is best know for works such as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns that explore the hardships of living in Afghanistan during the Soviet Invasion and Taliban regime. This paper will discuss the life and work of Khaled Hosseini with special emphasis on the effect on women in Afghan society in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Khaled Hosseini was born on March 4, 1965. He is the eldest of five children, and was born in Kabul, Afghanistan where his father worked for the foreign ministry and his mother taught Persian literature. Hosseinis father was relocated to work in Tehran, where Hosseinis passion for Persian literature grew and inspired him to write short stories of his own. In 1973 the Afghan King, Zahir Shah was overthrown by his own cousin, Daoud Khan, in a bloodless coup. In 1976, Hosseinis father was again relocated to Paris where Khaled and his family moved. Only two years after Daoud Khans reign, he was overthrown by a communist faction, and killed. Hosseinis family, now wary of the Soviet impact in Afghanistan, were granted political asylum in the United States.
Although Hosseini struggled with English in his first year of high school, he was greatly inspired by John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath, to continue his passion for writing. Determined to make ends meet for him and his family, after graduating high school in 1984 he enrolled in Santa Clara University to study biology, and later earn a his bachelors degree in 1988. Hosseini became a practicing internist after he gained his Medical degree at the University of California. Hosseini joined the Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organization and settled in Mountain View, California with his wife, Roya, to start a family.
Throughout Hosseinis medical studies he felt it was his responsibility to tell the world about the country he knew, before it was consumed with war, so he published his first novel The Kite Runner. He told the story of two Afghan boys whos lives undertake different paths with the events of the war. The Kite Runner spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, and returned to the list five years after its initial appearance (Khaled Hosseini Biography).
In 2003, following the success of his first novel, Hosseini returned to Afghanistan after twenty seven years. Where he felt devastated and shocked the remains of his country. In 2006 he joined the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, from war zones around the world. Since 2003 Hosseini had been working on his second novel which focuses on the effect of women during the Soviet Invasion and under the Taliban dictatorship. A Thousand Splendid Suns, like the first novel became an international bestseller, while The Kite Runner became a highly acclaimed motion picture. Khaled Hosseini gave up his medical practice to write and continue his work for the United Nations. (Khaled Hosseini Biography; "Khaled Hosseini | Biography)
A Thousand Splendid Suns is divided into four parts. In part one we meet Mariam. Mariam lives with her Nana in a kolba and is the illegitimate child of a wealthy cinema owner from Herat. Mariam praised the ground her father, Jalil walked on. But when her mother kills herself and shes sent to live with her father, she realizes that shes the personification of shame to her him. Jalil marries Mariam off to Rasheed, a shoe make from Kabul who turns out to be an abusive husband.
In part two of the novel we meet Laila. She was born on the same day the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Due to the fact that her older brothers are off at war with the Soviets, Lailas mother is in deep depression. Laila tells about her best friend Tariq, who she later falls in love with, and about her days during and after the Soviet Invasion. The day Tariq tells Laila that hes leaving Kabul due to the bombs reigning down on the city, they spontaneously end up having sex. Then two weeks after Tariqs departure, Lailas family also decides to leave, but a bomb hits her house and kills her parents.
In part three Mariam and Rasheed take Laila in and nurse her back to health. When Laila finds out she is pregnant with Tariqs child she decides to marry Rasheed so that he believes the child is his. Mariam and Laila are enemies at first, but Rasheeds abusive behavior manages to bring them together. In an extreme act of self-sacrifice Mariam kills Rasheed in order to save Lailas life, and turns herself in to the authorities.
In part four Laila runs away with Tariq, who comes back after so many years where they manage to make a living in a hotel where they also work at. In order to pay tribute to Mariam, Laila decides to visit Herat where she sees the kolba that Mariam and her mother lived in, she reads the letter Mariams father had left her, and when she finds out that shes pregnant with her third child, she decides that if its a girl shell name her Mariam. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells of the relationship of two unlikely women who are brought together by the events taking place in their country.
Its our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. Its all we have (19).
Mariam didnt heed the words of her mother back then in the kolba, but she did learn throughout her life that women in general had to endure the many hardships that life presented. The Soviet Invasion and Taliban regime has had a lasting effect on the women of Afghanistan. They have struggled with the Talibans political reign in government as well the the cultural contraintsof tradition and religion(Women in Afghanistan: Pawns in mens power struggles). Through the lives of Mariam and Laila one sees the disastrous events that have taken place in Afghanistan as well as the sturggle that women have endured to gain independence.
One can see where the notions of honour and shameemphasise female modesty and purity(Women in Afghanistan: Pawns in mens power struggles) through Mariams birth. Mariams mother was cast out of the house she lived in as a servant for having a passing affair with the owner of the house who was wealthy and of high class. Mariam thus considered herself an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had(4). Furthermore, in a poor excuse to rid himself of the shame and dishonor he brought upon his family, Mariams father marries her off.
[He] didnt have the [heart] eitherto stand up to his family, to his wives and in-laws, and accept responsibility for what he had done(7).
When Laila was rescued from the remains of her house and Rasheed claimed that her living in his house would look dishonorable(214) shows that a womens honor and purity means everything in Afghan society, and to ruin those things means bringing shame upon oneself and ones family. That is why Laila agreed to marry him, because she knew that if anyone were to find out she was pregnant and unmarried, she would be thrown out into the streets, and plenty of unimaginable things were to happen it to her then.
"Men stand superior to women in that God hath preferred the one over the other ... Those whose perverseness you fear, admonish them and remove them into bed chambers and beat them, but if they submit to you then do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great." (qtd. in Legacy of the Prophet)
This quote suggest that male relatives have the authority to beat their wives if they disobey them. They are many incidents in A Thousand Splendid Suns where Mariam and Laila are beaten into submission. Mariam is forced to chew on pebbles as a demonstration of how her food tastes to her husband, and is left spitting out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars(104). The Quran also states that women are to be beaten if they deny their husbands bed; Mariam is threatened to be beaten because Rasheed (her husband) claims that she is influencing Laila to not sleep with him. Mariam and Laila were tortured after they tried to escape Rasheeds home by being locked in separate rooms, where they went without water and food for days. Laila is severely beaten, almost to the point of death, when Rasheed finds out that she allowed Tariq into his home and allowed him to see her without a burqa. Male relatives in Afghanistan also have a right to honor killings, if a women is not a virgin on her wedding night her male relatives have the right to kill her in order to avenge the family honor. If a wife is accused of adultery she is stoned to death, and if a woman is caught with a man who is not a relative, she is given a hundred lashes and a year in prison (Islam and Womens Rights). Men are not greatly punished for the same crime that women commit since many of them can have multiple wives and concubines. This shows the injustice between men and women in Afghanistan and how tradition and religion is used to control their everyday lives.
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1978 gave woman a better sense of independence. This new governmental reform encouraged woman to a better education, teach in schools, work in hospitals, and permitted them to not wear a burqa. This reform also included the prohibition of forced marriages and also raised the marriage age to sixteen.
Women have always had it hard in this countrybut theyre probably more free now, under the communist, and have more rights than theyve ever had before(135).
According to the Commision on the Status of Women one must fight against the use of tradition in order to eliminate the discrimination of women (Women in Afghanistan). But such reforms were not taken lightly and were deemed un-Islamic, and thrust Afghanistan into a civil war between Soviet troops and the Mujahideen.