A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary and Study Guide

Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 62-page guide for “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 51 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Illegitimacy and Its Opposite and Experiences of Political Regime Change.

Plot Summary

A Thousand Splendid Suns, a 2007 novel by Afghan-born Khaled Hosseini, is the story of Mariam and Laila, two women married to the same man, Rasheed.

Born in 1959  near Herat, Afghanistan, Mariam is the illegitimate child of a wealthy man, Jalil, and his one-time housekeeper, Nana. For the first fifteen years of her life, Mariam lives a secluded life with Nana in a kolba (shack), situated in a clearing away from the main town. As penance for his adultery, Jalil comes to visit Mariam weekly, bringing her small gifts and news of the world. From her parents Mariam inherits conflicting views: Nana’s, that a harami like her must endure a lifetime of pain; and Jalil’s, that there is a whole world to discover beyond the kolba. Near her 15th birthday, Mariam goes for the first time to the Herat house Jalil shares with his legitimate wives and children. She is barred entry and forcibly taken home, where she sees that Nana has hanged herself.

After this tragedy, Mariam is for a while installed in Jalil’s guestroom. However, his wives are keen to get rid of her and so arrange for her to be married to Rasheed, a man from Kabul, who is thirty years her senior. Still in deep grief, Mariam goes along with the motions and moves to Kabul with Rasheed.

Although Kabul is a modernizing city, where women have greater liberties of expression, Rasheed proclaims himself of a traditional mindset and asks that Mariam wears a burqa. She slowly grows accustomed to Rasheed and begins to enjoy her status as a legitimate wife rather than an illegitimate child.

However, when seven of Mariam’s pregnancies end in miscarriage, relations become fraught between the couple. Rasheed, who desperately wants a son to compensate for the one who drowned in a previous marriage, is violent and contemptuous towards Mariam.

Meanwhile, in 1978, on the eve of the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan, a daughter, Laila, is born to Fariba and Hakim, Rasheed and Mariam’s neighbors. A rare beauty, Laila grows up intellectually encouraged by her ex-schoolteacher father but ignored by her unpredictable mother, who thinks only of her sons fighting in the Mujahideen’s army, against the Communists. Never truly knowing her older brothers, Laila grows close to Tariq, a carpenter’s son whose leg was blown off by a land mine.

When the Soviets leave in 1989, much guerrilla fighting follows and the streets are so dangerous that Laila has to be taken out of school. As she enters her teens, Laila’s relationship with Tariq deepens and becomes more flirtatious. Tariq tells her that he must leave Kabul with his ailing parents, and he and Laila become physically intimate just before his departure. A few weeks later, Laila’s own family is packing to move away from Kabul. However before they can get away, a bomb explodes, killing Laila’s parents.

Laila is saved by Rasheed and Mariam nurses her back to health. One day a messenger visits to tell Laila the devastating news that Tariq is dead. Motivated by both lust and a sense of propriety, Rasheed asks Laila to become his second wife. Laila agrees, only because she realizes that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child and needs a stable home to ensure the child’s safety. Marrying Rasheed in haste, Laila attempts to pass off the child as his own.

In the beginning, Mariam is extremely hostile to Laila, whomMariam sees as a husband stealer. Rasheed does his best to pit the two women against each other. However, when the baby, Aziza, is a girl and not the hoped-for son, Rasheed becomes cooler towards Laila and hints that he has suspicions that he is not the child’s father. United by their love for Aziza and their distaste Rasheed, Laila and Mariam form a powerful bond. When they attempt to run away, they are discovered and returned home, where Rasheed punishes them brutally.

Soon after the Taliban—with its rigid, misogynist laws—comes to power, Laila finds that she is pregnant again, this time with Rasheed’s child. In an unsanitary and underfunded women’s hospital, she gives birth to a son, Zalmai. When Rasheed’s shoe shop burns down and he cannot hold another job, the family’s grave financial difficulties mean that Aziza has to be sent to an orphanage, while Zalmai continues to be spoiled.

One day, Tariq, who was not dead but instead living in Pakistan, turns up at their doorstep. When Zalmai tells his father of their visitor, Rasheed has Laila in a death-grip. Mariam murders him with a shovel in order to save Laila’s life. Knowing that the two wives of a murdered husband would not have a chance of victory in a Taliban court, Mariam gives herself up and is sentenced to death, while she encourages Laila to elope with Tariq and the children. Laila and Tariq live in Pakistan for a while, but after a year return to a more peaceful Kabul, to help rebuild the city.

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