A wonderful piece by Khaled Hosseini, “A Thousand Splendid” Suns puts its spotlight on the experiences of women and those who lived in Afghanistan during the country’s unstable past half century. It is a book for those who wish to understand the modern history of Afghanistan (1963-2003) which is told through the experiences of two main characters, Mariam and Laila. It is a story of the unconquerable spirit of people and individuals seen through the eyes of these two strong women.
The book provides a good perspective on how caste, class, war, tragedy, women domination and betrayal played an important role during different time periods in Afghanistan. This story also extends its plot by including love, hatred and betrayal among different characters. The themes are universal in nature but the setting is very specific in producing a very powerful story for its readers. It is a book through which Hosseini has tried to provide an insight of many different life events that women of Afghanistan have to go through their lives.
The plot and the way the characters are defined shape the novel even more well and superb: every reader is tempted to know what might happen next and what shall happen to both Mariam and Laila. By the end of the novel, Hosseini has been able to tuck away all its loose ends and ends it in a way that is too sentimental.
CASTE- AN ESSENTIAL MATTER
The story unfolds by portraying the life of young Mariam, who happens to be the illegitimate daughter; she and her mother (Nana) are treated as an outcast from her father’s rich family because of which both of them have to live in sheer poverty. The question of caste comes to play a great role in this book. While Mariam’s father had other wives and daughters, it was unacceptable for any of them to accept both Mariam and her mother as a part of their big family because the mother once worked as a maid in the big house. The question of caste, where the father and other members of the family are of a high caste and Nana of a lower caste shows major level of substantial difference. As Nana is from what is known as a lower caste, her daughter is also labeled as a lower caste individual. Even though Mariam’s father was the head of the family in a place where the voice of men overshadowed the voice of women, he had no power in this matter. Mariam and Nana were unacceptable and that became the ultimate truth for every member in the family. The plot somehow finds similarities with the ruling class and the ruled class. The ruling class has ultimate power and the ruled class has to stay oppressed, in this case because the ruled class is from a lower caste group and the ruling class is from the high caste group or well known as the elite people of the society.
WOMEN DOMINATION- A BITTER REALITY
“Like a compass needle that always points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam” Hosseini has emphasized on the part of woman domination throughout the book by portraying different situations. Mariam, at a tender age of 15, is married to a shoemaker, Rasheed, 30 years elder to her. As she starts her life with Rasheed, Mariam develops thoughts about how difficult it is to be a woman. Just after she is married, she is asked to wear a “Burkha”, to cover herself from top to bottom. As days pass by, Mariam goes through the grief of several miscarriages. Rasheed, knowing the fact that Mariam is going through such grief, blames her for not being able to give birth to a son. He keeps blaming Mariam for not cooking well, for not being able to take care of the households properly, he blames her for everything. On the latter parts of the book also, it is seen how Rasheed tries to dominate Laila. After all the tragedies that Laila had been through and after she starts staying with Rasheed and Mariam, he sees Laila as an object to fulfill his lust and keeps both women under himself. Even when Laila meets Tariq, years later after the two lovers had been separated, Rasheed brutally beats Laila severely after which the story takes another turn. Hosseini has tried to show how domestic violence took place and how women were helpless and had no other option than to stay quiet and bind themselves inside the four walls of the house. They had no say, they were not heard. In shedding light on the lives of women who live behind the veil, Hosseini urges us to identify with these women.
CLASS- A BIG DIFFERENCE
Hosseini’s book has been able to give a clear picture to its readers on how the class system works in Afghanistan. It has shown a clear view about how different class people have different mind sets that are poles apart from each other even though they live in the same city. Mariam’s father, a well reputed man in the society is shown as a man from a very high class family with three wives. His wives do not have to cover their heads and are pretty fashionable. From how the author has described, his daughters are also well groomed. On the other hand, Mariam and her mother live in poverty, from a much lower social class than her father and his family. There is big difference on how both families function. Similarly, after Mariam is married, she is asked to cover her whole body and face with a burqa while Laila on the other hand is free and her parents believe that daughters should also be sent to school for education. This also reflects the difference in mentality of people from different social class groups. Rasheed, a shoemaker and not much educated has a mindset that women still are objects for giving birth to a son and that they must be covered from top to bottom when they leave home. While in case of Laila, because she is shown as a child from a high class, she is free from certain boundaries. Before tragedies hit her, she goes to school because her parents and family are with the mindset that even girls deserve equal opportunity in educational sector. Social class and the differences in these classes have been clearly shown in different parts of the book which has been able to make the readers even more clear about how one class id different and poles apart from another class and how social class also plays an important role in the overall development of an individual.
VIOLENCE AND TRAGEDY- AN ONGOING LOSS
The author tries to present different scenarios of Afghanistan during the time period of 1963-2003. Many people lost their lives and violence was increasing at a very high rate. Mariam, who is only fifteen, is abandoned by her father’s family even after her mother dies. She does not get time to overcome the loss; instead she is married to a man who is 30 years older to her. Even after marriage, she is not free of tragedies. Her consecutive loss of miscarriage and her husband’s cold, rude and hostile behavior towards her makes her life even more tragic and sympathetic. Happiness to her is just a word. On the other hand, Young Laila, a smart girl who went to school and whose parents were of the view that girls should be educated, is completely shattered when she hears about the death of her parents. After her parents had lost their two sons in war, Laila was the only child who was left, due to which her parents provided extra care and affection towards her. The moment when Laila hears about her parents being dead because of a bomb attack, she is devastated. Suddenly, all her pain and wounds do not hurt much like the news of her parents. This book reflects how difficult it was to live in Afghanistan during that time and how no person could guarantee his/her life for any day. A series of tragedies follow, as Laila is taken by Mariam and Rasheed. Initially, Mariam blames her for charming Rasheed towards her side and later different events follow due to which both Mariam and Laila have to suffer. The author also lets its readers know about how violence has been prevalent in different societies in Afghanistan.
BETRAYAL-LIFE CHANGING DECISIONS
The book unfolds different secrets and focuses on how betrayal played an important role and how it changed lives of different people associated with it. In the beginning of the novel, Mariam is betrayed from her father when she asks him to take her to the cinema on the birthday and he does not show up to fulfill his promise. Second, she is betrayed by her father and his family when she reaches the big house after her mother dies. She wanted a shelter and a family but instead she got someone 30 years elder to her who again blames her for almost everything wrong with his life. At some point, Mariam’s whole life is seen as betrayal. Ever since she was 5 and until the end of the book, she deals with major betrayals both things she is not responsible. Meanwhile, on another side, Laila also deals with different betrayals. After the death of her parents and after she has been taken in shelter by Rasheed and Mariam, she is informed that her long lost lover (Tariq) had been killed in a war. Later, after a series of things happen and she sees Rasheed in front of her eyes and after some investigations, she figures out that it was Rasheed who sent the wrong information so that so that he could marry Laila. Where in one hand, Laila was a happy girl who lived with her family who had modern thoughts; her life had brought her to a situation where she felt helpless.
The starting and the ending of the book have a very big contrast in themselves. The first line: “Mariam was five when she first heard the word harami” and the last line is “Laila is pregnant, and is remembering a naming game her family had played the night before. The game only involved boys’ names, because if the baby is a girl, Laila already knows what she will name it; Mariam” The bond between two women and the love due to which both of them are willing to sacrifice for each other is a tremendous example shown. Not only this,the teenage love story of Laila and Tariq, before Tariq moves to Pakistan, is shown as a very innocent act. Mariam, who does not have a child of her own takes Laila as her child and starts loving her as a mother and loves Laila’s children as her grand children.
The mother-daughter relationship in the book, even though not blood related, gives its reader a good example that relationship can be formed even though two people are not related by blood. The sacrifice that Mariam makes in the end of the book by killing her own husband Rasheed because of his violent act towards Laila after he found out that she has been meeting Tariq is superb. Mariam stays with Rasheed’s dead body and makes sure that Laila, Tariq and their children leave the place and go somewhere safe.
Overall, this book gives its reader a mixture of every type of emotion; love, hatred, betrayal, bonds, sacrifice, tragedy, war, misery and death. Everything has happened in this book. This is one reason I would ask anybody to read it.
Reproduced with permission from the writer’s personal blog: http://jotkaluru.blogspot.in/
About the writer:The writer is currently working at Institution for Suitable Actions for Prosperity(ISAP) as Program Coordinator. She completed her MA in Sociology from New Delhi. Gender issues often catch her eyes and she likes to write about them in her personal blog. In her free time, she also likes to capture anything that catches her eyes.