Summary of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will explore the plot details of ''A Thousand Splendid Suns'' by Khaled Hosseini. We will discuss the individual stories of Mariam and Laila, and what happens to their lives after they meet.

Plot Overview

Imagine losing your family and being forced to marry an older, abusive man. This was the experience of both Mariam and Laila, the main characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This novel tells the story of these two young girls in Afghanistan, from the 1960s through the 2000s. We follow them as they form a close bond through these years, enduring the relentless cruelty and abuse of their husband. The book is divided into four parts: one about each of the girl's lives before meeting, one about their lives together with their husband, and one about Laila's life afterward.

Mariam's Story

When we first meet Mariam she is almost fifteen and lives in the small city of Herat with her mother, Nana. Mariam is an illegitimate child of her father, Jalil, meaning she was conceived outside of marriage. Jalil only visits his daughter once a week. When she tries to convince him to let her stay at his house where he lives with his three wives, he turns her away. She returns home to find her mother has committed suicide. Jalil and his wives will not let Mariam move in with them, and he forces her to marry one of his friends, Rasheed, who lives in Kabul. Rasheed is thirty years older than Mariam, and lost his first wife and son earlier in his life. He eventually becomes abusive when Mariam continues to have miscarriages, and fails to produce the sons he wants.

Laila's Story

Nearly twenty years after the events in the first part of the book, we meet Laila, a fifteen year old girl living down the street from Mariam and Rasheed in Kabul. Her father, Hakim, is an advocate for women's equality and wants his daughter to receive an education and learn to think for herself. Laila is in love with Tariq, her best friend since childhood. However, she finds out that his family is going to flee the city to avoid the war. Before he leaves, they make love. Soon, Laila's family decides that it is in their best interest to flee the city as well, but as they are packing, a rocket destroys their house, injuring Laila, and killing her parents.

Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995
Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995

Fellow Wives

After the death of her parents, Laila finds herself in the care of Rasheed and Mariam. Rasheed had sifted through the remains of her house after it was destroyed, and found Laila, still alive. He is preoccupied with having a male heir, so he sees a perfect opportunity with Laila. Rasheed says that the only way he will let Laila stay in their house is if he marries her. She agrees when she finds out she is pregnant, and Tariq, the father of her child, is dead. When she gives birth to her daughter, Aziza, she conceals the truth of the child's parentage and lets Rasheed believe it is his. However, he is suspicious of this and unhappy that Laila gave birth to a girl instead of a boy. This leads him to become abusive to both women. But even through these horrible ordeals, Laila finds hope when she and Mariam become best friends and take care of each other. They eventually plot to escape Kabul and their abusive husband. But when they try to flee, Rasheed catches and abuses them, nearly killing Aziza.

Two years later, we find Laila pregnant with Rasheed's child. Though she considers giving herself an abortion, she decides against it and gives birth to a son, Zalmai. With the Taliban now in power, life is especially rough for Laila. Women cannot leave the house without a man accompanying them. Rasheed sends Aziza to the orphanage and Laila is beaten when she tries to visit her.

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