A Thousand Splendid Suns Study Guide

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women married to the same abusive man, Rasheed. Mariam is Rasheed's first wife, an illegitimate daughter married off to the woodworker for money. When Mariam proves infertile, though, Rasheed marries the privileged and beautiful Laila who is, unbeknownst to him, already pregnant with her lover Tariq's child. Mariam and Laila clash initially, but after Rasheed's abuse scales out of control they align to escape him. Mariam murders their captor and is executed for the crime, freeing Laila.

  • Mariam is an ethnic Tajik born in Herat, 1959. She is the illegitimate child of Jalil and Nana. She suffers shame throughout her childhood because of the circumstances of her birth. Khaled Hosseini described her portrayal: "The key word with Mariam is that she is isolated in every sense of the word. She is a woman who is detached from the day-to-day norms of human existence. Really, she just wants connection with another human being." Despite initially resenting Laila, she becomes a "friend and a doting alternative mother" to her through the "common hardship" of being married to the "abusive, psychologically imposing" Rasheed.
  • Laila is an ethnic Tajik. Born in 1978, to Hakim and Fariba, she is a beautiful and intelligent girl coming from a family in which the father is university-educated and a teacher. Hosseini states that compared to Mariam, Laila "had a much more fulfilling relationship with her father, her girlfriends and her childhood friend, Tariq. She expected to finish school and is looking for personal fulfillment. These are two very different representations of women." Her life becomes tied to Mariam's when she becomes the second wife of Rasheed, Mariam's husband. This originally draws resentment from Mariam, who "[feels] her territory infringed upon". Despite this, "Laila becomes her daughter for all practical purposes" due to Mariam's childlessness, struggles,and abuse they both face during the marriage. Towards the end of the novel she becomes a schoolteacher at the orphanage where Aziza had stayed.
  • Rasheed is an ethnic Pashtun, a shoemaker, and the antagonist of the novel. He marries Mariam through an arrangement with Jalil, and later marries Laila as well. After suffering years of domestic abuse at his hands, Mariam bludgeons Rasheed to death with a shovel during a violent struggle. Hosseini stated that he hoped to create a multi-layered character in Rasheed, saying, "Rasheed's the embodiment of the patriarchal, tribal character. In writing him, I didn't want to write him as an irredeemable villain. He is a reprehensible person, but there are moments of humanity, such as his love for his son." He identified an encounter with an Afghan man four years earlier as the foundation for this character; the man "had a very sweet, subservient wife" and had not yet informed her that he was planning to marry again.
  • Tariq , an ethnic Pashtun born in 1976, is a boy who grew up in Kabul with Laila. He lost a leg to a land mine at the age of five. They eventually evolve from best friends to lovers; after a decade of separation they are married and expecting a child by the end of the novel.
  • Nana is Mariam's mother and a former servant of Jalil. Mariam's birth is the result of an affair between Nana and Jalil. Jalil's favoritism towards his wives and legitimate children leaves Nana bitter towards Jalil. She hangs herself when Mariam is fifteen after Mariam journeys to Jalil's house on her birthday. Nana perceives this to be betrayal and regards as an act of desertion.
  • Mullah Faizullah , a Sufi, is Mariam's elderly Koran teacher and friend. He dies of natural causes in 1989.
  • Jalil is Mariam's father, a wealthy man who had three wives before he fathered Mariam. He marries Mariam to Rasheed after Nana's death, but later regrets sending her away. He dies in 1987.
  • Hakim is Laila's father. He is a well-educated and a progressive schoolteacher. He is killed in a rocket explosion along with Fariba.
  • Fariba is Laila's mother. In Part One, during her brief meeting with Mariam, she is depicted as cheerful, but her happy nature is disrupted when her two sons, Ahmad and Noor, leave home to go to war and are later killed. She spends nearly all of her time in bed mourning her sons until the Mujahideen are victorious, and is later killed in a rocket explosion along with Hakim.
  • Aziza , born in the spring of 1993, is the daughter of Laila and Tariq, conceived when Laila was fourteen. When the news of Tariq's alleged death arrives, in order to hide the child's illegitimacy and provide for herself, Laila decides to marry Rasheed. Aziza's birth marks the beginning of Laila's fall from favor with Rasheed and the friendship between Mariam and Laila.
  • Zalmai , born in September 1997, to Laila and Rasheed. He serves as a redeeming facet of Rasheed, idolizing him despite the abuse to his mother and Mariam. Zalmai remains unaware of the fact that Mariam killed Rasheed and continuously asks Laila about him, who lies by saying that he simply left for some time. After initially blaming Tariq for his father's mysterious disappearance, he comes to accept Tariq as a father-figure.

You'll need to sign up to view the entire study guide.

Sign Up Now, It's FREE
Source: Wikipedia, released under the Creative Commons Attributions/Share-Alike License