Study Guide: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - BookNotes|
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A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS: PLOT SUMMARY / SYNOPSIS
When Jalil would leave, Nana would tell Mariam that he told rich lies
- a rich man telling rich lies. She told Mariam that he had never taken
her to see the tree and that he had betrayed them both by casting them
out. Mariam hated herself for allowing Nana to speak this way about Jalil,
because she never felt like a harami when she was with him. She
loved him even if she had to share him. He had three wives and nine legitimate
children, all of whom were strangers to Mariam. He owned a movie theatre
where he bought the children who came to the movies ice cream. Of course,
said Nana, he never bought ice cream for Mariam. He was one of Herat’s
best - connected men with other businesses and a home with a cook, a driver,
and three housekeepers. Nana had been one of those housekeepers until
her belly began to swell. Jalil’s family was outraged by her and ordered
that Jalil throw her out. Nana’s own father had also disowned her and
moved away. Sometimes, Nana wished that her father had had had the stomach
to sharpen one of knives and do the honorable thing. It might have been
better for her. Jalil didn’t have the courage, either, to do the honorable
thing: stand up to his family and accept the responsibility for what he
had done. Instead, he made her pack up her things and moved her into the
kolba outside the city. Nana often told Mariam that he had told
his wives that Nana had forced her self on him and that it was her fault.
“This is what it means to be a woman in this world,” she would say. This
prepares the reader for what will follow in this novel. Nana says, “Like
a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds
This first chapter introduces the reader to the basic premise of the
novel - the lives of women in the Islamic world, in this case, Afghanistan.
Mariam is an illegitimate child, the product of a servant and a wealthy
man. Her mother is the one who emphasizes this idea the most, because
she is bitter about the circumstances of her life. She has paid the full
price for having a child out of wedlock while Jalil has seemingly paid
nothing more than money to support her and Mariam in little more than
a hovel outside of Herat. She has been ostracized even by her own father
and now is doomed to a life of loneliness. In the meantime, Mariam also
pays for having even been born, because she is a reminder of all Nana
Chapter Two is one of “he said - she said.” Nana tells her side of the story, and Jalil has his side. Nana tells Mariam that to Jalil and his wives, she was a mugwort or a weed that is ripped out and tossed aside. However, unlike a weed, she had to be replanted and given food and water on account of Mariam. That was the deal Jalil made with his family. Nana insisted that she wanted to live somewhere removed, detached, so that she didn’t have to see Jalil parade around town with his wives. She also refused to live in her father’s old house because of the way he had treated her. And so, after his oldest son suggested building a kolba in the clearing which overlooked all of Herat, Jalil agreed to build a kolba there. It was nothing more than sun-dried bricks with a dirt floor, two sleeping cots, a table, two straight-backed chairs, and one window. They must use an outhouse some distance from the house. Jalil could afford to have others build this hut, but he and his sons did all the work. Nana says that it is his idea of penance, and she calls the hut a rat hole.
Nana had almost married when she was fifteen to a young parakeet seller. When she tells Miriam this story, her daughter can tell that “perhaps for the only time in her life, during those days leading up to her wedding, Nana had been genuinely happy.” Then, a week before the wedding, a jinn had entered her body, causing her to have severe seizures. It was no doubt epilepsy, but for these superstitious, uneducated people, it was a deal-breaker and the parakeet seller’s family called off the wedding. After that, Nana had no more suitors.
Nana also frequently tells Mariam about the day she was born. She says that no one came to help her, and Jalil never summoned a doctor or midwife to attend the birth. She said she lay on the cold dirt floor for two days trying to push Mariam out and that when the baby was finally born, she cut the cord with a knife that she had kept beside her. At this point in the story, Nana would always give a slow, burdened smile, one of lingering recrimination or reluctant forgiveness. Mariam never realized until she turned ten that it was unfair to have to apologize for the manner of her own birth.
Of course, Jalil tells Mariam that none of this ever happened. He had
been out of town, just as Nana said, but he insisted that he had already
made arrangements for the birth and that Mariam had been born in a hospital.
Furthermore, the birth was all over within an hour, he said, so that “even
in birth, she was a good daughter.” When he had been informed of the birth,
he hadn’t just shrugged and kept on riding his horse. Instead, he had
rushed right back to bounce her in his arms and a hum a lullaby to her.
Nana insists that she had chosen the name Mariam, because it had been
her mother’s name. However, Jalil says that he chose it, because it was
the name of a lovely flower. Because Jalil doesn’t fill her with recriminations,
Mariam tends to believe him instead of her mother.
This chapter is so sad, because it is reminiscent of a divorced couple and
how they use their children to hurt each other. Nana passes on her bitterness
to Miriam for whom she is responsible for all but one day a week, while
Jalil plays the loving father who only has to spend a few hours a week
with his daughter.
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. 12 May 2008