Brief Biography of Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini was born to a diplomat and a Farsi and history teacher. His family later moved to Paris for his father’s work, and they were there when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. When he was fifteen, his family came to the US as asylum seekers and settled in California. Hosseini ultimately attended Santa Clara University and later medical school. After becoming a bestselling author with the publication of The Kite Runner, Hosseini quit his job as a doctor to write full-time. In March 2003, he returned to Afghanistan and was compelled to write more about the experiences of Afghans under the Taliban. He is also a UN goodwill ambassador, and has established a nonprofit providing humanitarian assistance to Afghans. He lives in Northern California.
Historical Context of A Thousand Splendid Suns
The novel takes place over approximately forty years, from the early 1970s, when Mariam is a teenager, to 2003, when Laila is settled once again in Kabul with her family. Throughout this time, Afghanistan was subjected to a series of violent, brutal wars and numerous political coups. When the story opens, Afghanistan has recently undergone a bloodless coup in 1973. In 1978, there is a Communist counter-coup, and the Soviet Union invades in 1979. After battles with the Mujahideen, or Islamic fighters supported by the United States, the Soviet Union finally withdraws its last troops in 1989 and the Mujahideen take over. After a decade of bloody infighting, the Taliban seize control and establish peace but also an extremely strict Shari’a law. Finally, the book ends during the American occupation of Afghanistan following the events of September 11, 2001. Hosseini attempts to anchor the reader in this complex history, by showing how specific historical events—the departure of the Soviets from Kabul, for instance, or the arrival of the Taliban—impacts the lives of the characters. By interweaving historical facts, often with dates and leaders’ names included, with the fictional narrative, Hosseini helps to breathe life into what could be a confusing historical lesson for an English-speaking audience. He also shows the extent to which politics has impacted every Afghan person’s life over the past several decades.
Other Books Related to A Thousand Splendid Suns
Just before The Kite Runner was published, Hosseini went to Kabul for the first time in 27 years. His first novel had focused on male relationships in the expatriate Afghan community, but this visit gave him the motivation to concentrate on women’s experiences in Afghanistan. Persian literature is heavily based on poetry rather than novels; Hosseini grew up reading Rumi, Hafez, and Omar Khayyám, and throughout the novel there are references to these and other classic Afghan poets such as Ustad Khalilluah Khalili, Nezami, and, of course, the 17th-century Saib-e-Tabrizi poem that gives the book its title. In terms of the novel’s form, Hosseini was deeply influenced by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which he first read in high school and whose descriptions of the bleak lot of migrant farmworkers reminded him of the plight of many Afghans. However, at least some of the success of A Thousand Splendid Suns (and its forerunner) can be attributed to the fact that, before their publication, there had been few novels in the English-speaking world that dealt with Afghanistan, a literary gap Hosseini set out to fill.
Key Facts about A Thousand Splendid Suns
- Full Title:A Thousand Splendid Suns
- When Written: 2004-2007
- Where Written: California
- When Published: 2007
- Literary Period: Contemporary
- Genre: Novel
- Setting: Herat and Kabul, Afghanistan
- Climax: As Rasheed is preparing to choke Laila to death, Mariam kills him with a shovel—thus ensuring both her own death, but also a hopeful future for Laila and her family.
- Antagonist: Rasheed, Laila, and Mariam’s husband; the Taliban
- Point of View: The story is told in the third person, alternating between Laila’s and Mariam’s point of view—the section and chapter divisions specify which one. The narrator never deviates from the perspective of each woman, but at times provides foreshadowing hints to the reader concerning what awaits the characters.
Extra Credit for A Thousand Splendid Suns
I think you can separate the sense of belonging that the various characters experience into two main groups: the women's love for each other, and the suppression they suffer at the hands of the male characters (particularly Rasheed) and from the governmental and social restrictions imposed upon them. Although Mariam is never happy living with her mother in the secluded hut outside Herat, Nana almost takes a male view of her daughter: Mariam is a possession that Nana cannot live without. When Mariam experiences the need to see her father's home, Nana recognizes that she will not be able to hold onto her daughter much longer, and she takes her own life. Mariam soon discovers that her father, Jalil, will not stand up to his wives and make a place for her in his home, and she is relocated via an arranged marriage to the much older Rasheed. Mariam finds that she is little more than a piece of property in her husband's household, and when he takes Laila as his second wife, Mariam is further pushed into the background. Mariam's hatred grows for her husband, but she eventually comes to accept Laila as a friend and companion, and Mariam's motherly instincts only begin to emerge when she bonds with Laila against the brutality of their husband. The birth of the children help to solidify the family somewhat, but the wives never feel an attachment to Rasheed's home. When their failed escape is discovered, Rasheed's punishment assures that they will make no further attempts to leave him. The women have few rights according to Afghan law, so they cling to each other in the hope that some change will come. Laila finds her true sense of belonging when Tariq returns for her, and they flee to safety after Mariam decides to take sole responsibility for Rasheed's death. Laila and Tariq bide their time, and when the Taliban's influence is finally eliminated, her love for Kabul and her home country guides them to making a return. Laila knows she belongs there, where her family's roots remain and where Mariam's memory is strongest.
Laila hears Mammy's voice, too. She remembers Mammy's response to Babi when he would suggest that they leave Afghanistan. I want to see my sons' dream... They'll see it through my eyes. There is a part of Laila now that wants to return to Kabul, for Mammy and Babi, for them to see it through her eyes.
And then... there is Mariam. Did Mariam die for this?... Did she sacrifice herself so she, Laila, could be a maid in a foreign land?