A Thousand Splendid Suns

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns that hide behind her walls’; Laila and Mariam that hide behind her walls.

The title of the novel ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ written by Khaled Hosseini is taken from a line in the poem ‘Kabul’ written by Mirza Muhammed Ali Saib. Yet there is a stark contrast between the beauty of Kabul described in Ali Saib’s poem to the lives endured by Laila and Mariam of Kabul.

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

Mariam is an ‘illegitimate’ child who seeks the love of her father so much so that her mother commits suicide. Jalil, Mariam’s father, cannot bear the shame of his illegitimate child and therefore arranges her marriage to Rasheed, a man thrice her age. With the forced signature of her name on the wedding papers, Mariam signs over her life and all control of her selfhood.

After their marriage, Rasheed forces Laila to wear a burkha. Although she is exceptionally uncomfortable, she is happy knowing that she is able to cover her identity. Along with the shame of having a father whom she believes does not love her, Mariam faces stigma for her inability to bear children and as a consequence of being ‘useless’ is regularly beaten by Rasheed like a piece of meat. The veil covers her beauty from other men, and shows that she belongs to Rasheed, but also to help her become identity-less from society.

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Amidst political wars in Kabul, Laila is a young, strong woman who loses her family and then hears news that Tariq, her Majnoon or Romeo, has also died as a result of the explosions. Knowing that she is going to bear child out of wedlock, and that the child is Tariq’s, she marries Rasheed. Unbeknown to Laila is that Rasheed has tricked her so that he can have his Mercedes Benz. Continuously likening her to an expensive car, Rasheed objectifies Laila and once again veils her so that she belongs only to him.

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Laila gives Rasheed two children, a girl and boy. The girl Aziza is completely disregarded, and even hated by Rasheed, but the boy is worshipped and placed on a pedestal. Laila, however, goes from being a Merc to an object like Mariam; beaten and confined to the domestic space of the home, completely under Rasheed’s control.

Unlike Mariam, Laila retaliates and beats Rasheed. She defends Mariam when he beats her and the story shows how women unite against the epitome of patriarchy. The story also portrays the injustice women face when they experience domestic abuse. As Mariam and Laila run away, they are captured by police who force them to return home. Laila explains that Rasheed will kill them but the policeman responds by stating he cannot intervene in private family matters. Oh the irony.

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

As I read this book, I felt like I was drawn into a black hole like the female characters themselves. But the constant beating slowly became normal. The arguments and abuse, belonging to Rasheed and existing only with an identity in the domestic sphere became normal. And this is the splendour of Khaled’s writing. Khaled turns these abnormalities ironically into expected occurrences until that hit of the spade that kills Rasheed. That blow that kills the root of injustice and relieves the women from slavery, from the definition of woman as inferior, and separates the two from being Rasheed’s victims to being Mariam and Laila again.

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

The darkness of the novel brought light on the fact that this happens in reality. If women wish to wear a veil, they should be able to do so; just like women who wish to wear skirts can. The fight of feminism is for women to not be dictated to. Forced to wear a veil enforces patriarchy and the loss of Mariam’s and Laila’s identities, and their want to lose it, is demeaning not empowering.

Also, stigma is a worldly emotion created by judgement. The truth does not exist in judgment. The truth exists in acceptance and knowledge of something greater than worldly thoughts, emotions and actions. Many children like Mariam are born orphans, parentless or with a single parent and many women cannot bear children. The perception of what is natural, however, is manmade.

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And no woman should ever endure domestic abuse because a woman’s body belongs only to her. In the story, the city of Kabul is broken by wars, crimes, rapes just like the female characters. But when Laila is finally reunited with her Tariq, she begins to restore herself, and in parallel so does Kabul. Khaled shows how one can belong to a city, and feel love and affiliation for it which is also what poet Ali Saib expresses in his poem.

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures

As quoted in the book, Tariq tells Laila ‘I will follow you to the ends of the world.’ A man is equal to woman. Man’s duty is not to own a woman but to love her.