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Study Guide: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - BookNotes

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CHAPTER 37: Mariam, September 1996


Two and a half years after trying to escape, Mariam awakes on the morning of September 27, 1996 to the sounds of shouting and whistling, firecrackers and music. She shouts over her shoulders as she looks out the window, “The Taliban are here.”

Mariam had first heard of the Taliban two years before. Rasheed had told them that this group had overthrown the warlords in Kandahar and taken over the city. They were a guerilla force made of Pashtun men whose families had fled to Pakistan during the war against the Soviets. Most had been raised and some even born in the refugee camps where they were schooled in Shari’a by mullahs. Their leader was a mysterious, illtiterate, one-eyed recluse named Mullah Omar. Rasheed tells them all these things it’s as if he is talking to the walls or someone who isn’t there. He no longer actually speaks to them directly. He acknowledges that the Taliban is ignorant of their country’s history and culture, but at least they are pure and incorruptible. They have been presently moving forward city by city and are quite close to Kabul. They are united, and Rasheed, for one, will shower them with rose petals when they arrive.

The next day, the four of them go out to greet their new world and their new leaders. People are coming out from everywhere and shouting Allah-uakbar or raising signs with the words Zena Baad Taliban! or Long live the Taliban! They see the Taliban up close later that day when Rasheed bullies a path through the crowd to makeshift scaffolding where a young man with a loudspeaker was speaking. In his free hand, he holds a rocket launcher and hanging beside him from traffic light posts are the bodies of Najibullah and his brother. They had dragged the men from the UN Headquarters and tortured them for hours and tied their legs to a truck and dragged their lifeless bodies through the streets. The young Talib harangues the deeds of Najibullah and then tells the crowd, “This is what we do with infidels who commit crimes against Islam.

The next day Kabul is overrun by red Toyota trucks and loudspeakers set up everywhere proclaiming that Afghanistan is now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and then followed by all the new rules that must be obeyed. And these rules are unbelievably strict for all the citizens of the country, but especially for women who now are denied the opportunity to go to school and are forced to stay home. No women will be allowed to work outside their homes. Laila is aghast that they can keep half the population at home doing nothing. However, Rasheed just replies to her comment, “Why not?” he tells her that there are many areas of their country that she has never seen where people have always lived this way. “Mariam hears the answer to Laila’s question in his laugh: that in the eyes of the Taliban, being a communist and the dreaded KHAD makes Najibullah only slightly more contemptible than a woman.”


The coming of the Taliban at first seems like salvation for a country weary of war, but soon it becomes apparent that their severe way of interpreting the Koran will make life nearly impossible for the women among them.

CHAPTER 38: Laila


“Laila is glad when the Taliban goes to work that Babi wasn’t around to witness it. It would have crippled him.” Museums are smashed and pre-Islamic statues are broken. Paintings are ripped from the walls and shredded. Books, except the Koran are piled up and burned. The Beard Patrol is everywhere in their red trucks looking for anyone violating their rules. Movie theaters are torn down and the tapes destroyed. The music ghetto is silenced and musicians beaten and imprisoned. They even fire bullets into the grave of Tariq’s favorite singer, Ahmad Zahir, who has been dead for twenty years.

Rasheed is bothered much by the Taliban. He grows a beard and attends the mosque regularly. He loves the public spectacles like the severing of hands, the lashings, the hangings, and the beheadings held at the Ghazi Stadium very Friday. When Laila labels the Talliban as savages, Rasheed says, “Compared to what?” he points out that the Soviets killed a million people and the Mujahideen killed 50,000 in Kabul alone. The Taliban, he argues, are following the Koran’s adage of “eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth.” Laila says he is just like them. That’s when Rasheed makes the comment that Aziza has interesting eye color that is neither his nor Laila’s and that if the fancy strikes him, he will be in within his rights to give her away. What disgusts Laila the most is that she knows he’s right. In the morning and for several more after that, Laila is queasy and soon her feelings become more and more familiar

Laila becomes convinced that the only way to deal with this new pregnancy is through abortion. However, she cannot go outside her house, so finding a doctor to do one is impossible. As a result, she snaps a metal spoke from a bicycle she finds in the alley and decides to do it herself. She is ashamed to be a mother who cannot summon love for her own child. However, in the end, she cannot do it, because she cannot accept what the Mujahideen readily accepted: that sometimes in war innocent life has to be taken. Her war is against Rasheed. The baby is innocent and Laila has seen enough killing of innocents caught in the cross fire of enemies.


What the Taliban does to the city is horrible to watch for everyone except Rasheed who loves what these backward, ignorant young men are doing.

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