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A Thousand Splendid Suns

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on 3 October 2014

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Transcript of A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

The Setting
The whole novel spans a period of over 50 years, from 1960s and 2003 and is set in an Afghanistan lacerated by the war. The book is divided in four parts: the first part is set in Herat, the second and the third in Kabul and the last one in Murri (Pakistan).
The Book
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is the second novel by Kahled Hosseini and it was published in 2007 and it focuses on the lives of two women during the war in Afghanistan.
The Author
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul in 1965. He is the last of the five sons of a diplomat and a teacher. In 1980, after the arrival of the Russian army, he got the political asylum in the USA, and he moved to San Josè (California) with his family, where he still lives with his wife and their two sons. He graduated in medicine at the San Diego University. In 2003 he published his first novel "The Kite Runner", that became a best seller in many countries.
The main characters of this novel are six:

-MARIAM: she is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and his former servant. Just from the childhood she suffers shame because of the circumstance of her birth. She learns how to live with her past sufferings and how to go through everyday life silently.

-LAILA:Laila's parents were teachers, they believed in the importance of the education even for girls and they wanted their daughter to study. Her childhood was quite happy and peaceful but her life changes when her parents die and she has to marry Rasheed. From this moment on Laila comes in contact with the difficulties of a woman's life in Afghanistan.

-RASHEED: he is Laila and Mariam's violent husband. After years of abuses and violence Mariam kills him with a shovel. He reveals affection and liking only to his son, Zalmai.

-TARIQ: he is Laila's childhood best friend. He lost a leg because of a land mine. Tariq and Laila evolve from best friends to lovers and, after a decade of separation, they can get married.

-AZIZA: she is Laila and Tariq's daughter.Her birth marks the beginning of Rasheed's adversity to Laila and the beginning of the friendship between Mariam and Laila.

-ZALMAI: he is Laila and Rasheed's son. He serves as redeeming facet of Rasheed, idolizing him despite the abuse of his mother and Mariam. He is very attached to his father and Laila never reveals him about his death. After the initially suffering for his father's disappearance, he accepts Tariq as new father-figure.
The Plot
The novel speaks about the lives of two women (Mariam and Laila) of two different generations that come in contact during the war in Afghanistan. The book is divided in four parts: the first is focused on Mariam's childhood, the second on Laila's childhood, the third is the friendship between the two women and the fourth one describes Laila's life in Pakistan with Tariq.
Why this title?
The title of the novel comes from the translation of the poem "Kabul" of the Afghan poet of the 17th century Saib Tabrizi:
Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls
Mariam is a young girl; her mother, Nana was a former housekeeper for Mariam's wealthy father, Jalil,and had been banished in a hut near a small Afghan village, in order to avoid to humiliate Jalil's three wives and nine children.Nana bitterly disparages Mariam and Jalil, who weekly visit his daughter. To celebrate her fifteenth birthday, Mariam begs Jalil to take her to the cinema in Herat, but Nana firmly objects. When Jalil fails to meet her, Mariam decides to walk alone to the city, only to be told that her father is not at home, even if she sees him looking at her from one f the windows of his beautiful house. On her return she discovers that her mother has killed herself. Reluctantly, Jalil takes Mariam into his house. His three wives wish to get rid of her permanently and find her a suitor. The suitor, Rasheed, is a man thirty years older than her from Kabul and the idea of marring him horrified Mariam. After the marriage Mariam takes a bus to Kabul with Rasheed leaving her childhood in Herat. Once in Kabul, she mopes until Rasheed instructs her to behave like a wife . One day, waiting at the communal oven, Mariam meets Fariba, her politically and social liberal neighbor, whose husband is a teacher. Rasheed disapproves Fariba and, conservative, he buys Mariam garment, that covers her completely. One night Rasheed and Mariam shares the bed, but when she miscarries in the public bathhouse, his attitude to her changes. After four years of marriage and six miscarriages, he believes Mariam is an useless 19 years old woman and he frequently beats her.
Meanwhile, Fariba and her husband have a daughter, Laila. Fariba is full of fire until her two sons go to jihab against the Sovietic army, then she retires in her bedroom and after his brothers' death, Laila becomes a caregiver for her parents: she prepares th dinner for her father, while he helps her with the homework. Laila's father urges her to get an education before getting married. When the Sovietics are finally driven from Kabul, an ethnic violence between local warlords begins and Laila is forced to leave the school. Laila's father wants to leave Afghanistan but her mother doesn't want. Laila's closest friend Tariq has an artificial leg because of a Sovietic land mine. Tariq and Laila become intimate after Tariq's annunces that he is going to Pakistan with his family.
Laila's parents are killed when their house blows and Rasheed finds Laila injured in the rubble. Mariam reluctantly tends her as she recovers. Later, Laila is informed that Tariq is dead in a Pakistani hospital. Observing her husband with Laila, Mariam realizes that Rasheed, now 60 years old, is courting the fourteen-years-old girl. Mariam attempts to dissuade him, but she is at his mercy, as is Laila , who accepts to marry him becuase she is pregnant with Tariq's baby and she hopes to deceive Rasheed.
Rasheed keeps his new bride at home, and Mariam serves them both. The two women resent each other until Laila's first daughter, Aziza, brings them together and Mariam becomes another mother for Laila and a grandmother for Aziza. Laila begs her to escape with them to Pakistan. They get ready to flee but they can not travel without a male relative. A young man, who offers to help them, betrays them keeping their money. The police returns them to Rasheed, who keeps them imprisoned for 3 days. In the meantime, the fundamentalist Taliban seizes Kabul and they distribute strict rules: men must wear beards and women mustn't leave their house without a male relative.
Laila discovers she is pregnant with Rasheed's child. In labor, she is sent to a small hospital without medicine, clean water or electricity and she has to go through a caesarean section without anesthetics. This time Laila gives birth to a boy, Zalmai, who loves both parents but prefers his father who is gentile with him and always buys him lots of gifts.But he decides that Aziza has to go to an orphanage when his shop burns and he has to steal food in order to survive. Laila can visit her daughter but can not travel without Rasheed, who often deliberately stops and goes back home, forcing her to do the same.
Suddenly Tariq appears at Laila's home: the story of is death was false.Zalmai, although innocent, reveals to Rasheed about Laila's "new friend". Furious Rasheed beats her with his belt and when Mariam tries to defend her Rasheed beats her too. Mariam realizes he will kill both of them and she hits him with a shovel. The two women hide Rasheed's body and while Laila, Tariq, Aziza and Zalmai escape to Pakistan, Mariam accepts the blame and she is pubblically executed.
Arriving with the children in Pakistan, Laila and Tariq get married. Once the Taliban are driven from Afghanistan, the family returns to contribute to the rebuilding. Kabul has changed although the local warlords responsible of so much death, are back. Now, Laila is a teacher in the orphanage where Aziza once lived. She is once again pregnant and if it is a girl, her name will be "Mariam".
The themes of the novel are essentially two:

-FAMILY: when asked the author about the themes of his novels, he explained that both (The Kate Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns) have in common the theme of family and both are multigenerational, so the relationship between parents and children are presented with all contrasts and complexes. While "The Kate Runner" was a father-son story, "Thousand Splendid Suns" is focused on the female figures.

-WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN: through the story we can notice that women have two different situation depending on the domination.
Under the Soviet Union' influence, women were given more rights: they could work, attend secular school and make their own decisions.The written constitution guaranteed equal rights for men and women. Laila' father used to say her that that was a good period for be woman in Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban domination women were stripped of all rights. They were no longer allowed to appear in public without a male relative. They had to wear burqas and could be punished at the slightest provocation. Women were a source of contempt and were treated as such. There were beatings, stonings, hangings and many women were raped as form of punishment.
I really appreciated this book and I loved the way of writing of the author that is simple, clear and easy to understand also for foreign readers.
The plot had involved me a lot and captured my attention. I have also read another novel by Kahled Hosseini "The Kite Runner" but I liked more this second novel because of the themes: I am very interested in woman's role in different cultures and I admire how Hosseini can talk about the atrocity suffered by the woman in Muslim countries with simplicity and realism. I found extraordinary the way the author could talk about women's feelings and soul even if he's a man.
...Like a compass needle that points north a man accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.
These words said by Nana, Mariam's mother, are the result of her experiences: the discrimination because of her illegitimate pregnancy and the isolation.
This quotation starts with a metaphor: the accuser finger of a man is compared to the needle of a compass. In fact, like the needle of the compass is always pointing the north direction because of the magnetic power; the same way women are always accused by men because of their weakness and fragility.
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