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

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In the spring of 1974, Mariam turns fifteen. She tells Jalil that she knows what she wants for her birthday. Two weeks before, he had told them about a cartoon that was playing at his cinema. His revelation of the plot makes it clear to the reader that it is the Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. Now she tells her father that she wants to go to his cinema and see the puppet boy. Itís at this point that Mariam senses a change in the atmosphere of her parents. Nana says that itís not a good idea while her father makes commentary about the poor quality of the film. Maybe another time is their agreed decision.

Later, Mariam says again to Jalil, ďTake me.Ē He says he will have someone pick her up and get her a good seat and all the candy she wants. However, Mariam is determined that he will take her. She also says she wants him to invite all her brothers and sisters so she can meet them. She tells him she will meet him the next day at the stream at noon, and they will go. He never actually agrees, just pulls her to him and holds her for a long time.

When Mariam tells her mother that Jalil will be taking her the next day, Nana is furious and calls her a harami once again. She also accuses Mariam of abandoning her, and insists sheíll die if Miriam leaves. It all reminds Mariam of how her mother lies to her about so many things. For example, she always keeps Mariam by her side by instilling the fear that the jinn will return, but now Mariam knows that it can be controlled with medication that Nana refuses to take. It makes Mariam sick of being used by her mother, of her mother making her another of her grievances against the world. ďYouíre so afraid, Nana,Ē she thinks. ďYouíre afraid that I might find the happiness you never had. And you donít want me to be happy. You donít want a good life for me. Youíre the one with the wretched heart.Ē

To escape Nanaís recriminations, Mariam goes to the lookout on the edge of the clearing. There, she picks up ten pebbles and arranges them in vertical rows. This is a game she plays privately by herself. She sets them up with four in the first column for Jalilís first wifeís children, three for the second wife, and three for the third wife. Then, she adds a fourth column with a solitary eleventh pebble to represent her.

The next day, Mariam dresses in her best clothes and begins to check the clock. She wonders where Nana is, but doesnít look for her in fear of being accused of betrayal. At eleven-thirty, she puts the pebbles in her pocket and goes outside to the steam. She sees Nana sitting in a chair in the shade of a weeping willow. She doesnít know if her mother sees her, but she keeps on walking to the stream. But noon come and goes, and Jalil does not arrive. It is almost one oíclock, but Mariam tells herself that he is a businessman, and something has come up. However, time continues to pass, and he fails to arrive. So, Mariam picks herself off the ground, and for the first time in her life, she heads down the hill for Herat.

When she arrives in the town, Mariam realizes that Nana had been wrong about Herat as well. No one points at her or calls her names. In fact, she is an ordinary person. She loves everything about it and gives herself over to the thought of a new life in this city, with her father, with brothers and sisters, a life in which she will love and be loved back without reservation or shame. She eventually works up the nerve to ask the elderly owner of a horse-drawn gari if he knows where Jalil lives. He replies that everyone knows where Jalil Khan lives. Then, he offers to take her there in the gari. When they arrive, it is obvious Jalil is at home, because his car is there. Mariam has never before touched a car, and she strokes it gently as she heads for the door of the house. A woman comes to the door at her knock, and she tells the woman that she is Miriam, and she is here to see Jalil Khan. The woman at first seems confused and then seems to take on an air of anticipation as she tells Mariam to wait there. Then, Jalilís driver comes to the door and tells Mariam that Jalil is not there and that she needs to go home. However, Mariam refuses and insists sheíll wait on the doorstep until he returns. He says he wonít be back until the next day, and it will be too cold for her to stay there. Mariam then says that he should let her in the house. He tells her has been instructed not to do that. Mariam crosses her arms stubbornly and refuses to leave.

Over the years that followed, Miriam would have many times when she would wonder how things might have turned out if she had just allowed the chauffeur to take her home. But she didnít. So she spends the night outside Jalilís home. In the morning, she awakens to see that someone has placed a blanket over her. The chauffeur now tells Mariam that she has done enough, and she must leave at once. Instead, she runs into Jalilís garden where she sees a brief flash of Jalilís face at the window before the curtain is drawn across. Suddenly, she is lifted off the ground by the driver and forced into the car, kicking and screaming. On the way home, the driver speaks to her a muted, consoling tone, but Mariam cries tears of grief and deep, deep shame at how foolishly she had given herself over to Jalil and how she had dismissed her motherís stricken looks and puffy eyes. She wonders what she will say to Nana, how she will apologize. Then, the driver helps her out and says he will walk her to the kolba. He helps her across the stream and lets her go until he sees something that makes him shout, ďGo back! Donít look!Ē However, he isnít fast enough and Mariam sees. A gust of wind blows back part of the drooping branches of the weeping willow. There is an overturned straight-back chair. There is a rope dropping from a high branch, and Nana is dangling at the end of it.


Mariamís fifteenth birthday turns out to be the most tragic one she had ever experienced. She is rejected by both of her parents. First, Jalil fails to show up to take her to his cinema and then refuses to admit her to his home or acknowledge her as his daughter. Second, her mother, in her deep despair at being abandoned, commits suicide, rejecting her daughter completely and leaving her to suffer from the guilt that is sure to follow.

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