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A Tale of Two Generations

Updated on August 22, 2020

Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-American novelist and physician. After graduating from college, he worked as a doctor in California, a predicament that he likened to "an arranged marriage." He has published three novels, “The Kite Runner”, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and “And the Mountains Echoed”. All three of his novels became bestsellers: The Kite Runner (2003) spent 101 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, four of them at number one. A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) was a Times Best Seller for 103 weeks, 15 at number one. And the Mountains Echoed (2013) debuted near the top of the Times list and remained on it for 33 weeks until January 2014.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Imagine losing your family and being forced to marry an older, abusive man. This was the experience of both Mariam and Laila, the main characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This novel tells the story of these two young girls in Afghanistan, from the 1960s through the 2000s. We follow them as they form a close bond through these years, enduring the relentless cruelty and abuse of their husband. The book is divided into four parts: one about each of the girl's lives before meeting, one about their lives together with their husband, and one about Laila's life afterward.

Mariam's Story

When we first meet Mariam she is almost fifteen and lives in the small city of Herat with her mother, Nana. Mariam is an illegitimate child of her father, Jalil, meaning she was conceived outside of marriage. Jalil only visits his daughter once a week. When she tries to convince him to let her stay at his house where he lives with his three wives, he turns her away. She returns home to find her mother has committed suicide. Jalil and his wives will not let Mariam move in with them, and he forces her to marry one of his friends, Rasheed, who lives in Kabul. Rasheed is thirty years older than Mariam, and lost his first wife and son earlier in his life. He eventually becomes abusive when Mariam continues to have miscarriages, and fails to produce the sons he wants.

Laila's Story

Nearly twenty years after the events in the first part of the book, we meet Laila, a fifteen year old girl living down the street from Mariam and Rasheed in Kabul. Her father, Hakim, is an advocate for women's equality and wants his daughter to receive an education and learn to think for herself. Laila is in love with Tariq, her best friend since childhood. However, she finds out that his family is going to flee the city to avoid the war. Before he leaves, they make love. Soon, Laila's family decides that it is in their best interest to flee the city as well, but as they are packing, a rocket destroys their house, injuring Laila, and killing her parents.

The end of this novel, I think, both of them are happy. Mariam was born as a “harami” , but she died peacefully, because she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian and the most important as a mother.

Laila is also happy with her family. And mostly Mariam is in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.

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