A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini, 2007
Pengiun Group USA
Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—March 04, 1965
• Where—Kabul, Afghanistan
• Education—B.S., Santa Clara University; M.D., University
of California, San Diego School of Medicine
• Currently—lives in northern California
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1970, the Foreign Ministry sent his family to Tehran, where his father worked for the Afghan embassy. They lived in Tehran until 1973, at which point they returned to Kabul.
In July of 1973, on the night Hosseini’s youngest brother was born, the Afghan king, Zahir Shah, was overthrown in a bloodless coup by the king’s cousin, Daoud Khan. At the time, Hosseini was in fourth grade and was already drawn to poetry and prose; he read a great deal of Persian poetry as well as Farsi translations of novels ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series.
In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry once again relocated the Hosseini family, this time to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, Hosseini’s family moved to San Jose, California. They lived on welfare and food stamps for a short while, as they had lost all of their property in Afghanistan. His father took multiple jobs and managed to get his family off welfare.
Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California-San Diego’s School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and began practicing Internal Medicine in 1996. His first love, however, has always been writing.
In 2003, Hosseini published The Kite Runner, which became a runaway bestseller and film in 2007. He followed up with his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns in 2007, also a bestseller. His third novel, And the Mountians Echoed, was published in 2013.
Hosseini has vivid, and fond, memories of peaceful pre-Soviet era Afghanistan, as well as of his personal experiences with Afghan Hazaras. One Hazara in particular was a thirty-year-old man named Hossein Khan, who worked for the Hosseinis when they were living in Iran. When Hosseini was in the third grade, he taught Khan to read and write. Though his relationship with Hossein Khan was brief and rather formal, Hosseini always remembered the fondness that developed between them.
In 2006, Hosseini was named a goodwill envoy to the UNHCR, The United Nations Refugee Agency. (Adapted from the publisher.)
From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:
• During his years in the U.S., Hosseini has soaked in more than his share of American culture. He professes to be a fan of such U.S. institutions as the music of Bruce Springsteen and football. Still, he admits that he simply cannot appreciate baseball, saying, "I think that to fully appreciate baseball, it helps to have been born in the U.S."
• When it comes to chickens, Hosseini is a chicken. "I'm terrified of chickens," the writer confesses. "Absolutely petrified. This intense and irrational fear is, I believe, caused by the memory of a black hen we owned in Kabul when I was a child. She used to peck her own chicks to death as soon as the eggs hatched."
• When Hosseini isn't writing or tending to one of his patients, he enjoys games of no-limits Texas hold 'em poker with his brother and friends.
• When asked what book most influenced him, here is what he had to say:
I remember reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school in 1983. My family had immigrated to the U.S. three years before, and I had spent the better part of the first two years learning English. John Steinbeck's book was the first book I read in English where I had an "Aha!" moment, namely in the famed turtle chapter. For some reason, I identified with the disenfranchised farm workers in that novel—I suppose in one sense, they reminded me of my own country's traumatized people. And indeed, when I went back to Afghanistan in 2003, I met people with tremendous pride and dignity under some very bleak conditions; I suspect I met a few Ma Joads and Tom Joads in Kabul.
Hosseini succeeds in carrying readers along because he understands the power of emotion as few other popular writers do. As he did in The Kite Runner, he uses a melodramatic plot to convey vividly the many aspects of love and the ways people sacrifice themselves for those they hold dear. With A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini has shown that he doesn’t intend to be a one-hit wonder. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Lisa See - New York Times Book Review
[The book] going to be another bestseller no matter what's said about it in this and other reviews, so maybe there's no point in going further. But just in case you're curious, just in case you're wondering whether in yours truly's judgment it's as good as The Kite Runner, here's the answer: No. It's better.
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post
Often, second novels pale in comparison to the first, but this long-awaited story pulls the reader completely into a world of cruelty, despair, pain and poverty and offers hope, redemption and love to offset the anguish. It brings to life a part of the world that the average American knows little about, and makes real for us the very human implications of our foreign policies, long after Afghanistan faded from the headlines.
So what is the point of reading this novel? The texture of these characters' journey around the craters of their country is no doubt well known to readers of international news. Rendered as fiction in A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, it devastates in a new way. It forces us to imagine what we would do had we been born to such grim fates.
The book holds the listener thanks to Hosseini's riveting story-an in-depth exploration of Afghan society in the three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban cruelty. He impels us to empathize with and admire those most victimized by Afghan history and culture-women. Mariam, a 15-year-old bastard whose mother commits suicide, is married off to 40-year-old Rasheed, who abuses her brutally, especially after she has several miscarriages. At 60, Rasheed takes in 14-year-old Laila, whose parents were blown up by stray bombs. He soon turns violent with her. Although Laila is united with her childhood beloved, the potential return of the Taliban always shadows their happiness.
(Starred review.) Unimaginably tragic, Hosseini's magnificent second novel is a sad and beautiful testament to both Afghani suffering and strength. Readers who lost themselves in The Kite Runner will not want to miss this unforgettable follow-up. —Kristine Huntley
Most critics agreed that Khaled Hosseini's second novel is as devastating, if not more powerful, than his first.... [T]he novel offers a chilling, all-too-real portrait Afghan life. "It is, for all its short-comings, a brave, honorable, big-hearted book" (Washington Post).
This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women. Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam's childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it's 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It's the eighth year of Soviet occupation-bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul's true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam's objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he'll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it's short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination. Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.
1. The phrase “a thousand splendid suns,” from the poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi, is quoted twice in the novel – once as Laila’s family prepares to leave Kabul, and again when she decides to return there from Pakistan. It is also echoed in one of the final lines: “Miriam is in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.” Discuss the thematic significance of this phrase.
2. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this sentiment informs Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.
3. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?
4. Laila’s friendship with Mariam begins when she defends Mariam from a beating by Rasheed. Why does Laila take this action, despite the contempt Mariam has consistently shown her?
5. Growing up, Laila feels that her mother’s love is reserved for her two brothers. “People,” she decides, “shouldn’t be allowed to have new children if they’d already given away all their love to their old ones.” How does this sentiment inform Laila’s reaction to becoming pregnant with Rasheed’s child? What lessons from her childhood does Laila apply in raising her own children?
6. At several points in the story, Mariam and Laila pass themselves off as mother and daughter. What is the symbolic importance of this subterfuge? In what ways is Mariam’s and Laila’s relationship with each other informed by their relationships with their own mothers?
7. One of the Taliban judges at Mariam’s trial tells her, “God has made us different, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can. Western doctors and their science have proven this.” What is the irony in this statement? How is irony employed throughout the novel?
8. Laila’s father tells her, “You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly you are. You can be anything that you want.” Discuss Laila’s relationship with her father. What aspects of his character does she inherit? In what ways is she different?
9. Mariam refuses to see visitors while she is imprisoned, and she calls no witnesses at her trial. Why does she make these decisions?
10. The driver who takes Babi, Laila, and Tariq to the giant stone Buddhas above the Bamiyan Valley describes the crumbling fortress of Shahr-e-Zohak as “the story of our country, one invader after another… we’re like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing.” Discuss the metaphorical import of this passage as it relates to Miriam and Laila. In what ways does their story reflect the larger story of Afghanistan’s troubled history?
11. Among other things, the Taliban forbid “writing books, watching films, and painting pictures.” Yet despite this edict, the film Titanic becomes a sensation on the black market. Why would people risk the Taliban’s violent reprisals for a taste of popcorn entertainment? What do the Taliban’s restrictions on such material say about the power of artistic expression and the threat it poses to repressive political regimes?
12. While the first three parts of the novel are written in the past tense, the final part is written in present tense. What do you think was the author’s intent in making this shift? How does it change the effect of this final section?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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