A book review of “a Thousand Splendid Suns”

Laila sees something behind this young girl's eyes, something deep in her core, that neither Rasheed nor the Taliban will be able to break; something as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone; something that, in the end, will be her undoing and Laila's salvation” (Hosseini 401). This statement sums up the hopes and aspirations of Afghan women as they go through challenges in a male-dominated society that has little regard for their welfare.

A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a captivating novel by Khaled Hosseini that focuses on the tragic story of the Afghan people, especially women. The book follows the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, as they move from one misfortune to another, and their struggle against society and authority, notably the Taliban. 

Afghan women are faced with many obstacles in their quest for freedom. To elaborate on this thesis, the essay explores further the roles played by religion and men in the oppression of women, the importance of cooperation and education for women, physical and emotional abuse of women, and discriminations in their daily life.

Mariam, an illegitimate daughter of Jalil, a prosperous businessman from the city of Heart, is married to a Kabul shoemaker by the name of Rasheed at age 15. Jalil is a philandering and irresponsible man who sires an illegitimate child but does not take care of her. Rasheed, on the other hand, epitomizes the typical afghan man.

Mariam and Laila, his two wives, are the complete opposite; hardworking and saintly in character. They are courageous even in the face of adversity.

Through Laila, the novel puts emphasis on the need of education for women. Her father encourages her to appreciate the value of education. Her father says, “a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated…marriage can wait, education cannot” (Hosseini 103). During the communist role, women had more freedom compared to when the Taliban came to power. “Women taught at the university, ran schools and held office in the government” (Hosseini 121).

Khaled Hosseini's aim is to draw attention to the hardships faced by women in Afghanistan. Mariam and Laila are at first suspicious of each other when they meet, but later realize that their cooperation was crucial for their own survival. The suffering of Mariam and Laila not only draws attention to the suffering of Afghan women, but also to many other women worldwide who are subjected to the male chauvinistic society and suffer domestic abuse. Hosseini also shows that women are partly to blame for the misfortunes befalling them. Mariam, for example, is frequently bullied by her epileptic mother who constantly reminds her that she is a harami, a bastard child. She also opposes her daughter going to school. Instead, she questions the importance of education to her daughter.

Religion is used as an excuse to oppress women. Laila’ father confides that the reason the communist leadership was ousted from power was mainly because of the men’s opposition to women empowerment. When the communist regime abolished forced marriages and set the minimum age for marriage at16, the Pashtun tribe on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan were not amused. They saw this as a threat to their authority.

In religion, Islam, Men apply double standards. They apply the sharia law selectively. In most cases, they walk scot free while women face harsh sentences, even for small misdemeanors. Rasheed forces Mariam to wear a burqa yet he takes alcohol and possesses on pornographic material, contrary to Islamic teachings. Rasheed appeals to Islamic tradition only when it suits him.

Women are discriminated against in all spheres of life. Men reserve the best facilities for their use and leave women to use facilities of low quality. Laila gives birth to her second child in a hospital without oxygen, medicine and power supply. The main hospital that has all life supporting equipments is meant for men only (Hosseini 255). During Mariam’s trial, one of the Taliban judges makes it clear that women are inferior and cannot think on the same level as men (Hosseini 324). The women in Hosseini’s novel are only valued for reproduction. When she fails to give him a son, Rasheed sees Mariam as a burden (Hosseini 90). Compared to the communist era, the Taliban worsened the life of women. Unaccompanied women were flogged in public while those who committed adultery were stoned. Items such as cosmetics and jewelry were banned. They were not allowed to laugh in public or make eye contact with men (Hosseini 249).

The problem with Hosseini’s novel is that it gives more attention to the historical artifacts destroyed by the Taliban than the suffering of women. He also fails to mention the role of the US in the suffering that the people were subjected to through their bombs and rockets. He also seems to imply that the afghan women were much better during and after the Taliban era, which is not true.

The suffering of Afghan women can be blamed on men who justify their action in the name of Islam. Hossein sees education and cooperation among the women as the springboard to the freedom of Afghan women.


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