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

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CHAPTER 47: Mariam


Mariam, it seems, is back in a kolba, after all these years. She is in the Walyat women’s prison. There is no gloass in the windows and no curtains either. The courtyard that looks into the windows is patrolled by Talibs who leer in to get a look at the ladies when they are naked. Because of this, most of the women wear burqas all day, removing them only at night when the guards go to their posts. Mariam shares a cell with five women and four children. There is never any light at night so they lift Naghma, small girl, to their shoulders where she hotwires the only light in the cell. Mariam learns that most of the children have been born in the prison and have never seen life outside it. Their mothers have to use a well that overflows, because there is no drainage, and the water tastes awful. Nonetheless, they do their wash and hang it in the courtyard where they meet up with their vistors. That’s the first and only thing that Mariam asks the Taliban officials: no visitors.

Mariam is the only woman in her cell who is there for a violent crime. Most of the others have been brought her for “running away from home.” As a result, she has obtained a kind of celebrity among them. The women eye her with a reverent, almost awestruck, expression. Naghma is the most avid of her fans, always hugging her elbows and following her wherever she goes. She is in prison, because she had been promised to a man thirty years older than her. So, she eloped with the son of a local mullah with whom she had fallen in love. They were quickly caught and sent back. The mullah’s son was flogged until he repented and said that Naghma has seduced him after she cast a spell on him. He was freed, but she was sentenced to five years in prison. When she hears Naghma’s story, Mariam thinks once again of Nan’s words all those years agao, “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

Mariam’s trial had taken place the week before. There was no legal council, no public hearing, no cross-examining of evidence, no appeals. It lasted less than fifteen minutes. When asked if admitted to the crime, Mariam said she did. At first, Mariam warmed to the judge whom she found to be similar to Mullah Faizullah, but then he showed his true side. He said, after she told him she understood fully what she was saying, that he wondered if that werer so since God made men and women differently. Men had larger brains and so women were not able to think like men. That was why they required only one male witness but two female ones. Mariam then told him she admitted to what she did, but of she hadn’t killed Rasheed, he would have strangled Laila. The judge snickered and said women swore to all kind of things and she had no witnesses to back her up. He went on to say that he was not afraid to die, but he was afraid to face Allah not having obeyed His laws. He was determined to carry out His word. He believed her that she had a disagreeable husband, but he questioned how she could commit such a crime with his little boy crying upstairs. He said, “Something tells me you are not a wicked woman, hamshira. But you have done a wicked thing.” After she was punished with a sentence of death, she was led out to sign a document while the Taliban watched. “She wrote out her name - the neem, the reh, the yah, and the neem - remembering the last time she signed her name to a document, twenty-seven years before, at Jalil’s table, beneath the watchful gaze of another mullah.

Mariam spends ten days in prison, looking out the window whenever the dust was blowing too badly. On her last day there, Naghma gives her a tangerine, bursting into tears as she hands it to her. To Naghma, Mariam is the best friend she has ever had. She spends the rest of the day watching the children play and remembering the dream she had the night before of eleven pebbles. She dreamed of Jalil, young again, and Mullah Faizullah. But most of dream was of Nana and the sound the wheelbarrow coming up the hill through cows and sheep on the hill.

On the way to Ghazi Stadium, Mariam bounces in the bed of a Taliban truck as it skids over potholes. A young armed Talib sits across from her and Mariam wonders if he will be the one. He asks her if she is afraid, and Mariam admits that she is very afraid. He then tells her that his father fought against the Communists, and his mother had told him his father was the bravest man she had ever known. However, when he had been taken away by them, he had cried like a child. Now he tells Mariam that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. For the first time that day, Mariam cries just a little. Thousands of eyes bear down on her as she is helped from the truck. A murmuring ripple is also heard. Mariam imagines how the crowd may shake their heads in disapproval when her crime is announced, but she blinds herself to all of them. Earlier that morning, she had been afraid she would turn into a pleading, weeping spectacle, but her legs do not buckle and her arms do not flail. She doesn’t have to be dragged, and when she feels gherself faltering, she thinks of Zalmai, from whom she had taken the love of his life. Then, her stride steadies, and she can walk without protest. She is told to walk toward the southern goalpost. She keeps her eyes to the ground on her shadow and the shadow of the executioner who walks behind. Now she thinks life, even though there had been moments of beauty, was mostly unkind to her. However, as she walks these final paces, she can’t help hoping for more of it. She wishes she could see Laila again, to hear the clangor of her laugh, to sit once more with her and a cup of tea. She mourns that she will never see Aziza grow up. She would have liked to be old and play with Aziza’s children. Now, through the criss-crossing mesh of the burqa, she sees the shadow behind her lift his rifle. She wishes for so much in these final moments, but at least now, it is without regret. A sensation of abundant peace washes over her. She had entered this world a harami, a weed, but she is leaving it a woman who had loved and been loved back. “This is a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.” She begins to say a few words from the Koran as the executioner tells her to kneel and look down. “For one last time, Miriam does as she is told.”


This chapter is one of the most poignant ones in the novel. Mariam’s acceptance of the final unkindness in her life without regret or rancor is a wonder, given all she has faced and been denied. Instead, she remembers the people to whom she had been unkind and feels regret only for the unkindnesses she was responsible for. Furthermore, she is as much a victim of the Taliban as any other person unjustly treated and executed in the name of the laws of Allah. It is a sober reminder that more people have died in the name of religion than for any other reason in the history of mankind.

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