A Thousand Splendid Suns

Mariam, now in his father’s house realises the truth of her mother’s words. Her father is as fake as her mother said,  showing fake care and concern. Mariam is then married to a 40 year old Rasheed, her mother’s words “You are just a burden” ringing in her ears. When Jalil, the father used to throw Mariam up in the air while playing, Nana, her mother always told her that he would surely drop her one day. Ironically the same happens as Jalil refuses Mariam from entering the house and later marrying her to a 40 year old, proving her mother right. Rasheed is a hard core conservative and lays very strict rules for Mariam. The burqa,  whichMariam wore for the first time on her trip to Kabul is a symbol of comfort for Mariam. She feels relaxed behind the black veil because she thinks that no one can see her and she no longer has to worry about the shameful secrets from her past. Mariam felt suffocated in the new house of Rasheed and ironically Rasheed almost did that to her seventeen years later. When Mariam gets pregnant, she is showered with care from Rasheed and it makes her feel secure, foreshadowing what Rasheed will do to her later. When Mariam loses her child to a miscarriage, she asks Rasheed if the can have a proper burial for the child to which Rasheed refuses. Mariam’s request is symbolic of the fact that she wanted to honour the life that was almost and never her’s. Mariam is treated miserably by Rasheed after the miscarriages, 7 in total, blaming her for everything. Mariam is reminded of her mother’s words,  how’a man’s finger accusing finger always finds a woman’. The writer ends the first part of the book on the day Laila, the second central character is born 5 houses left of Mariam and Rasheed’s house. It is also the day the the Soviet rule is overthrown in Afghanistan and a monarchy is set up.

 

Laila is the third child of the family, her two elder brothers being away on war fighting for the Taliban to gain control of Afghanistan. Her father, Babi,  is a teacher and a stern believer of female education. It is evident when he says,  ‘Laila, when Afghanistan is free of war, it will need educated people, and more over educated women, women like you’. Khaled has brilliantly depicted the mother-daughter relationship in the novel. While Mariam’s relation with her mother was bitter because of her father,  Laila’s relationship with her mother is uneven because of her brothers. Laila’s mother is hopeful of the  return of her sons which leads to Laila’s negligence from her side. The central love story is of Laila and Tariq (who had lost a leg to polio and is later referred in many places as an amlutee) , 2 neighbors who have grown up together and are the closest of friends. The narrator mentions an incident when Tariq had gone to his cousins place for a couple of weeks amd each day felt like a year for Laila. This would later be instrumental in how Laila shapes her life without Tariq. The writer mentions very little of Mariam and Rashed in the initial stages of second part, only beautifulyweaving the story in such a way to inform the readers that Rashed is not fond of Laila’s father and his views on women education. An instance where Tariq and Laila are running down the street and spot a black Benz, the number plate being of Herat and an old man standing outside Rashid’s house. This foreshadows what the readers later find out was the final attempt of redemption by Jalil. Laila’s and Tariq’s romance comes to a still when Tariq has to leave town because of the worsened war, leaving Laila heart broken. Tariq proposes to marry Laila who refuses because of her father’s  ambitions for her. However they make love on the day Tariq is leaving, the writer describing it as,  “something which should have made Laila guilty but rather made her feel special”. ‘With the passing of time, she will slowly tire of this exercise; there will come day when she will no longer bewail his loss, when the details with slip from her memory, when she will not miss him as she does now like the phantom pain of an amputee. Except, every once in a while, when she is a grown woman, pushing her child on a swing set, something trivial like the warmth of the carpet beneath her feet, and it will all come rushing back, flood her, and steal her breath’. This foreshadows that her love for Tariq really won’t ever leave her and she will be able to fall back into a relationship with him just like he was never gone. 17 days after Tariq leaves town,  Laila and her family are leaving for the same town making Laila highly excited by the mere thought of seeing Tariq. On the day they were leaving, ‘Babi was wearing a San Francisco shirt’,  the writer here gives information about Babi, foreshadowing his death. After Laila’s house is bombed killing both her parents, Rashedand Mariam take care of her. Mariam asks Rashed how long is Laila staying, to which Rashed replies as long as she doesn’t get better. He shows compassion towards Laila and brings her new pillows and a bottle of vitamins. This foreshadows that Rashed wants to marry Laila. Laila says Yes to the proposal because of the fact that she was now pregnant, pregnant with Tariq’s child. The whole neighborhood, as well as Rashed was aware of Tariq and Laila, so he paid a guy to give fake information about Tariq’s death, which had further compelled Laila to say yes to the marriage. Any delay in their marriage would raise suspicion so she agreed to Rashed’s proposal. When Aziza, the baby girl was born, Laila found Rashedstaring at her peculiarly several times, foreshadowing that Rashid knows about Aziza. Khaled shows how despite the basic mood of the book being tragic and sad, there is ample room for hope and love. The most touching and heart warming relation is that of Mariam and Laila. Mariam who is unhappy to the core with Laila’s presence develops a liking for Aziza which later turn to the purest love, motherhood. Laila, who has been largely devoid of the love of a mother and Mariam, longing for a child she lost 7 times,  find their mother and daughter in each other. Their relationship develops greatly over the course of the story, Mariam being the first to know the truth of Tariq whereas Laila hearing all the pain and guilt buried in Mariam’s heart. They even make an unsuccessful attempt at leaving Kabul, failing and facungthe wrath of Rashed. Tariq returns to Kabul, 9 years after he left, the writer describing i a heart wrenching scene when Laila saw her and just cried, hugging him, aware of Rashedand his rules,  yet touching another man, or her man. ‘You whore,  you dont think I know of that amputee and your harami Aziza’,  Rashed screams as he strangles Laila. ‘Maybe she saw a ray of hope, or guilt in his eyes’, says the narrator ironically when Mariam kills Rashed, her own life an example of living only in guilt. Mariam refuses to leave town with Tariq and Laila, saying dying was better than the guilt of killing someone’s father and seeing them grow up. Laila leaves the country , returning to Afghanistan after situations improved. The writer here changes the mood of the story and turns it into a story of hope and relationships rather than war and guilt.

 

‘A thousand splendid suns’ is a one in a million novel, an exemplary story teller narrating a heart wrecking yet eye opening story. How war is never between two factions or groups but rather between every citizen and their struggle for survival is the message here. Every life that ends, someone else’s  dream, ray of hope, someone else’s reason of living, everything ends with just a single life. Imagine Afghanistan losing 2 Million of them, and still counting. This is a story that brings tears, but also realization. This is a story of how not to ruin, rather than a ruined country. It is a story of guilt.

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