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

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Mariam and Laila are the protagonists who teach the reader the reality of life as a woman in a backward Muslim country. They overcome several wars throughout their lives and turn into strong and faithful women, in spite of the abuse at the hand of Rasheed and the abusive treatment of women by the Taliban. One, Mariam, sacrifices herself to save Laila, Tariq, and the children, while the other, Laila, learns that to be a good mother and a better woman, she must accept her role in the rebuilding of her country.


The antagonists are Rasheed, the Mujahideen, and the Taliban who abuse women and destroy their country. They live in a world of old time values and refuse to accept the need for women to have an identity beyond what can be seen under a burqa. They are ultimately all destroyed or driven from the country, because being a tyrant eventually leads to an uprising by those tyrannized. Rasheed is murdered by Mariam, the Taliban drives out the Mujahideen, and the United States drives the Taliban out of power.


The climax occurs when Mariam murders Rasheed. After that the lives of the two women take very different paths.


Mariam is arrested for murdering Rasheed and is excuted in the stadium in front of thousands of people. Laila escapes Kabul and goes to Pakistan with Tariq and her children. She eventually returns, first stopping in Herat to see the place where Mariam grew up, and then returning to Kabul to create a better home and a new school for her children and the children of orphanage.


The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny seen from the perspectives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age fifteen into marrying Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal when she fails to produce a child. Eighteen years later, Rasheed takes another wife, fourteen year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Mariam and Laila become allies in a battle with Rasheed, whose violent abuse is endorsed by custom and law. The author gives a forceful portrait of despotism where women are dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their only path to an accepted social status. Each woman in the end is forced to accept a path that will never be completely happy for them: Mariam will have to sacrifice her life to save Laila after she murders their husband while Laila, even though marrying her childhood love, must find a way to keep the sacrifice Mariam has made from not becoming an act done in vain.

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