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

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The story takes place in Herat, Afghanistan, and Gul Daman, a small village outside of Herat, and then Kabul, the capital city from 1958 to the present day. There is also some time in Murree, Pakistan.


Major Characters

She is the main character of the story. She was born illegitimately to a wealthy man of Herat and one of his housekeepers. She tries to force her father to acknowledge her as his daughter, but it leads to the heartache of her mother’s suicide and her own arranged marriage to Rasheed. She lives with him many years as an abused wife until Laila becomes his second wife. They establish a fast friendship and Mariam eventually kills Rasheed as he is choking Laila to death. She is executed by the Taliban for her crime.

She is a beautiful young girl with golden hair who is raised by a modern set of parents to be an educated woman in an Islamic world. Because her parents are killed by a Mujahideen rocket, and she is six weeks pregnant to Tariq whom she believes is dead, she married Rasheed. Like Mariam, she becomes part of a home where she is abused and where she carries on a lie that her daughter is Rasheed’s. Eventually, after Tariq surfaces and Rasheed finds out that she allowed him in their home, she is nearly choked to death by her husband. Only Mariam’s intervention saves her life. She is then forced to leave Afghanistan with her children in order to protect her son and daughter. Mariam accepts her fate and is left behind.

He is the neighbor boy that Laila has always loved. He lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine quite early in his life, but is one of the toughest kids in his neighborhood. He always protected her from anyone who bullies her. He leaves Afghanistan with his parents when it becomes impossible to stay in a crumbling society. He promise to find Laila when he can. He ends up in a refugee camp where his father dies. He is determined to get his mother out of the camp and accepts a job delivering a leather coat to another city. Unfortunately, the coat is lined with hashish and he is caught by Pakistani police. He is sentenced to seven years in prison, which is really a generous sentence for the times and then is released. His mother has died in the interim and so he heads home to Kabul. There he finds Laila, and with his presence, sets up the death of Rasheed. He later escapes from Kabul with Laila and returns to Murree, Pakistan, to wed her and come to know his real daughter, Aziza. In the end, he agrees to go back to Kabul when the Taliban is driven out to help rebuild the city they love.

He is villain of the story, a cruel, abusive man who was dead drunk when his only son fell into a lake and drowned. He had already lost his wife in childbirth and has become more than bitter. He is almost psychotic. He beats and verbally abuses both his wives whom he married to create a son to replace the one he lost. Later, his abusive behavior leads to his murder, when one wife kills him to save the other.

Jalil Khan
He is Mariam’s father who made the mistake of an affair with one his housecleaners to produce her. He is a loving father who visits her once a week at the hut in the village of Gul Daman where he has sent her and her mother to live. She is really an object of shame for him, but his love for her will not allow him to completely dismiss her. However, when she forces him to recognize her, he marries her off to Rasheed, a decision he comes later to regret very much. He comes to see her in Kabul to tell her that he is dying, but she refuses to see him. So, within days of his death, he leaves her oval box filled with a videotape, a letter of apology, and a huge amount of money from what he had left in material possessions. He sends it to Mullah Faizullah for safekeeping, just in case Mariam returns to find her father. However, he dies without ever hearing the knock at the door that would be Mariam.

Minor Characters

She is Mariam’s mother who spends her last years becoming more and more bitter over the life she has been forced to lead with her harami daughter. She is the object of scorn, not very physically attractive, and not as kind to her daughter as she could be. Ironically, it is her daughter’s desire to live with her father that drives Nana into the ultimate despair and leads her to suicide.

She is the daughter of Laila and Tariq, but Laila passes her off as Rasheed’s son because she is an unwed pregnant woman in a Muslim country. She grows up abused by Rasheed as well who hates her, even when he thinks she’s his child, because she is a girl. Later, Rasheed orders that she be sent to an orphanage when they have little food and not enough for everyone. There is is secretly educated by the orphanage director and thrives in the learning environment. She is reluctant to return to Kabul after her mother and father take her to Murree. However, when she is reassured that Tariq will never leave her, she willingly goes along to a new life.

He is the son of Rasheed and Laila and looks and acts like his father, even though he is just a small child. Whenever he is with his mother, he is a well-behaved and polite child. But when he is with Rasheed, he is demanding and spoiled. When his father dies, he is confused about where the man has gone, but Laila reassures him that Rasheed is just on a trip and will be home soon. When she and her children leave Kabul with Tariq, he at first refuses to recognize Tariq as a member of their family, but eventually the memory of his father, Rasheed, disappears as the man has himself, and Zalmai accepts Tariq as his father.

Mammy and Babi
They are Laila’s parents. Mammy is the victim of deep despair and ultimately severe depression when Babi allows their two sons to go off to fight the Soviets. They are eventually killed in that war and it nearly kills her. She is just recovering from that despair, brought back to life by the arrival of the Mujahideen, and willing to leave Kabul when these soldiers she loved turn on each other, when their house is hit by a rocket and she dies. Babi was once a high school teacher, but was fired when the Soviets arrived. He taught Laila about the importance of being educated and believing that women would be the salvation of Afghanistan. He dies in the same rocket explosion as Laila’s mother.

Mullah Faizullah
He is the tutor Mariam knew and loved. He came to the kolba to teach her the Koranic verses and prayers, but comes to admire her and believe she is a wonderful little girl who should be acknowledged by her father. He is devastated when her father marries her to Rasheed, but willingly saves the box that Jalil Khan leaves behind to save for the daughter he allowed to get away. He dies with the wish that his son guard the box for Mariam who will never see it.

Abdul Sharif
He is a doorman at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul who is paid by Rasheed to pretend he had been in the hospital room where Tariq was brought and died. His story to Laila is filled with tenderness, sorrow, and supposedly Tariq’s last words. However, even though Laila readily believes it, it is all a lie, and only when Mariam recognizes him when she goes to the hotel to telephone her father, does the Laila learn that this is how Rasheed tricked her into marrying him.

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