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A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set in Afghanistan from the early 1960s to the early 2000s.
Mariam, a young girl in the 1960s, grows up outside Herat, a small city in Afghanistan. Mariam has
complicated feelings about her parents: She lives with her spiteful and stubborn mother, Nana; while
her father Jalil, a successful businessman, visits Mariam — his only illegitimate child — once a week.
Mariam resents her limited place in Jalil's life; she wants to live with him, his three wives, and her
half-siblings in Herat. She makes her wishes known by asking Jalil to take her to see Pinocchio for her
fifteenth birthday. Jalil reluctantly agrees, but then never shows up to take her to the film. Mariam
walks to heart and finds Jalil's house, but he doesn't let her in, so she sleeps on the street. The next
morning, Jalil's chauffeur drives Mariam home where she finds that her mother has committed suicide.
Mariam is taken to Jalil's home after her mother's funeral. Jalil's wives want nothing to do with
Mariam, so they force him to let her marry Rasheed, a widowed shoemaker in Kabul. At first Rasheed
treats Mariam decently, but after she suffers miscarriage after miscarriage, he abuses her both
physically and verbally. It becomes clear that Rasheed's only use for Mariam is in her ability to
replace the son he lost years ago.
Growing up down the street from Rasheed and Mariam is Laila, a young, intelligent girl from a
loving family. However, the Afghani war against the Soviets disrupts Laila's childhood and both her
older brothers leave to join the war. Laila seeks comfort from her best friend, Tariq, a boy a few years
older than her. Just before Laila reaches adolescence, her parents' receive news that both of their sons
have been killed. A few years later, war reaches Kabul and bombs fall on the city regularly. By now,
Tariq and Laila are teenagers and in love. As Tariq tells Laila that he and his family are fleeing to
Pakistan, the couples makes love for the first time, quickly and passionately. A few days later, Laila's
parents decide to leave Afghanistan as well, but as they are packing a rocket hits their house, killing
Laila's parents and wounding her.
Rasheed and Mariam nurse Laila back to health and after she recovers, a stranger, Abdul Sharif
brings her news that Tariq has died. Devastated and realizing she's pregnant with Tariq's child, Laila
agrees to marry Rasheed. Mariam is initially hurt and threatened by Laila's presence and refuses to
have anything to do with her. However, after Laila gives birth to a daughter, Aziza, the women come
to see themselves as allies against Rasheed's abusive, manipulative ways. A few years later, Laila
gives birth to a son, Zalmai. Then, one afternoon, after years of abuse and sadness, Laila is shocked to
see a man standing at her front door: Tariq.
Tariq and Laila spend the afternoon together while Rasheed is at work. Laila and Mariam
realize that Rasheed hired Abdul Sharif to tell Laila about Tariq's untrue demise so she wouldn't run
away. When Rasheed finds out that Tariq has come home, he brutally beats Laila. With a shovel,
Mariam kills Rasheed. The next day, Mariam turns herself over to the Taliban in an effort to clear the
way for Laila to find sanctuary for herself and her children in Pakistan with Tariq.
In Pakistan, Tariq and Laila marry and finally begin the life they dreamed of so many years
ago. With time, both of Laila's children warm to Tariq and they enjoy their new life. But in September,
2001, their happiness is overshadowed by news that the United States has attacked Afghanistan.
Following the US invasion, conditions in Kabul improve, and Laila insists that her family move back
home so they can help rebuild their city. They stop by Herat on their way to Kabul, where Laila visits
Mariam's old home and is able to come to terms with her grief over Mariam's execution. Laila and
Tariq build a new life in Kabul: Laila becomes a schoolteacher at the orphanage where Aziza once
lived. And when Laila becomes pregnant, she decides that if she has a girl, she'll name her Mariam.
Part 1: Chapter 1
Mariam, an Afghani woman, remembers her mother calling her a harami when she was five
years old — although it is many years later before she learns the word means "bastard child." Before
Mariam's birth, her mother, Nana, was a housekeeper for a wealthy businessman in Herat named Jalil.
Jalil impregnates Nana, and she and Mariam live in a kolba (small cottage) outside of the town. As a
girl, Miriam loves Thursday visits from Jalil, who tells her stories of Herat, although she never visits
the city and her mother takes pains to remind the growing girl that her father brings her only stories,
none of the wealth Jalil describes to her.
As Mariam grows older, she learns her father has three wives and nine legitimate children.
However, Mariam's love for Jalil does not diminish, even after she learns he banished her mother after
their affair resulted in a pregnancy. Nana, a bitter woman, frequently reminds Mariam of her father's
abandonment, and is upset that Jalil placed the blame on her as if he had no part in their affair.
Part 1: Chapter 2
Nana and Mariam discuss their life in the kolba, with Nana insisting that Jalil and his family
see them as weeds — albeit weeds not so much plucked, but transplanted at a distance. Nana reveals
that she refused to live in Herat because she did not want to have Jalil's legitimate life paraded around
her constantly, so Jalil and two of his sons built the small, simple house Mariam inhabits until she is
fifteen years old.
Nana also tells Mariam the story of her first beau. When Nana was fifteen, she was to marry
this man, but then the jinn came over her — a seizure that scared off her beau and any other potential
suitors. Despite her own youth, Mariam realizes that her mother has not been happy since losing that
first love.
Mariam's parents tell her conflicting stories of her birth. Nana tells Mariam that she was alone
in the hut, lying on the floor for two days with a knife by her side to cut the umbilical cord; Jalil did
not come to visit his daughter for over a month. In Jalil's version of the story, he arranged for Nana to
go to a hospital, where the birth was very fast, and he returned from a business trip as quickly as
possible to see his new daughter. According to Nana, Mariam was named after her mother; according
to Jalil, she was named after one of his favorite flowers.
Part 1: Chapter 3
During Mariam's childhood, Ration Day holds a significant place in her imagination for it is
the day two of her half-brothers push a wheelbarrow up to the kolba and she and Nana unload
supplies. On these days, Nana throws stones at the boys as they wait for the women to unload the
wheelbarrow. Mariam usually feels bad about her mother's behavior, but once she joins in and calls
her half-brothers names. But Mariam feels guilty for doing so.
Nana does welcome three select visitors to their home, the first being the Habib Khan, leader
of the neighboring village, Gul Daman. The second is Bibi jo, a local gossip. And the third is Mullah
Faizullah, Mariam's Koran tutor and Mariam's favorite visitor after her father. After their lessons,
Mariam and Mullah take walks together. On one of these walks, Mariam tells Mullah of her desire to
go to school, as she has heard her half-sisters do. On Mariam's behalf, Mullah asks Nana to let Mariam
go to school but Nana refuses, asserting that the only thing Mariam needs to learn is how to endure the
hardships she'll encounter throughout her life.
Part 1: Chapter 4
Jalil's visits are Mariam's only solace every week and she changes as she waits for him.
Mariam's restlessness begins Tuesday evening and crests when she waits at the doorway on Thursday
afternoons, aware of Nana's watchful gaze, as she does her best not to run into her father's arms.
Once Jalil arrives, he has tea with Nana and Mariam, Nana bottling her bitterness and behaving
politely in his presence. After tea, Mariam and Jalil fish in the creek. Sometimes, Jalil brings news
clippings and reads them to Mariam. This is how Mariam learns that King Zahir Shah has been
overthrown and his cousin, Daoud Khan, is now president of Afghanistan. Mariam is not interested in
the story because she's distracted by the gift hiding in Jalil's pocket. Jalil sees his daughter's gaze and
presents her with a pendant. After he leaves, Nana tells Mariam the pendant is cheap and Mariam
concentrates on her secret wish: that one day she'll tell Jalil how much she wants to live with him in
Herat and that when he hears this, Jalil will bring her to live with her half-siblings.
Part 1: Chapter 5
Mariam tells Jalil and Nana what she wants for her approaching fifteenth birthday: to go to
Jalil's cinema house and see the cartoon film, Pinocchio. Neither Jalil nor Nana like the idea, but once
Jalil and Mariam are alone, she begs her father and he agrees to meet her by the creek the next day to
take her to the movie.
The next morning, Mariam dresses in her best clothes and sneaks to the stream, unsure if her
mother sees her as she passes by the house. Mariam waits for hours by the stream, but Jalil does not
come. Finally, fed up, Mariam crosses the stream and for the first time in her life, she walks to Herat.
Upon reaching the city, Mariam is astounded by its liveliness and charmed by the market. The
people who surround her and treat her as a stranger, but — unlike Nana's warnings in which strangers
would ridicule Mariam the moment they saw her. Mariam asks a carriage driver for directions to Jalil's
house and he agrees to take her there. On her arrival, a kindly chauffeur tells her that Jalil is out of
town for an unknown length of time. Mariam refuses to leave and spends the night sleeping on the
street outside the gates to Jalil's house.
In the morning, the chauffeur insists on taking Mariam back to her house, stating that she is not
allowed to see Jalil. Mariam escapes the chauffeur's grasp only to see Jalil briefly in an upstairs
window of the house. Once Jalil sees Mariam, he draws the curtain between them. Crushed, Mariam
allows the chauffeur to drive her home. She weeps the entire time, feeling betrayed and foolish for not
listening to her mother's warnings. Once they arrive at the kolba, Mariam and Jalil's chauffeur are
shocked to see Nana has hung herself from the willow tree in the yard.
Part 1: Chapter 6
After Nana's funeral, Jalil takes Mariam back to the kolba and appears to make a great effort to
comfort her; but Mariam senses her father's inauthenticity and asks for Mullah Faizullah. Only with
her elderly Koran teacher is Mariam able to cry for the first time. Later, Jalil brings Mariam to his
home and sets her up in a guest room. While Jalil invites her to dine with the rest of the family,
Mariam refuses, spending most of her time in her room, contemplating her guilt and grief.
One day, Mariam's 8-year-old half-sister, Niloufar, comes in the room to fetch a gramophone
from the closet. The two girls visit briefly, but Mariam is too upset to befriend Niloufar. When Mullah
Faizullah arrives a few days later, he tries to convince Mariam that it is not her fault that her mother
committed suicide. Mullah Faizullah explains that Nana was an unhappy person long before Mariam's
birth. But Mariam is still not able to rid herself of the feeling that if she had not betrayed her mother
and gone to Herat, her mother would still be alive.
Mariam receives a visit from Afsoon, one of Jalil's wives (and Niloufar's mother). Afsoon
insists that Mariam clean herself up and join Jalil and his wives for a conversation.
Part 1: Chapter 7
Sitting at the end of Jalil's dining table, Mariam is confronted by his wives: Afsoon, Khadija,
and Nargis. The wives quickly arrive at the point of the meeting: they've found Mariam a suitor. The
suitor, Rasheed, is a middle-aged widower and shoemaker living in Kabul. The three women chime in
their approval of the match, ignoring Mariam's protests. Finally, Mariam begs her father to prevent the
match from happening. Jalil, refusing to look his daughter in the eye, does not interfere with his wives'
aims. The wives go on to inform Mariam her suitor is in Herat and the two will be married the next
day; she will then move to Kabul with her new husband. Throughout the meeting, Mariam sees more
and more how much the wives long to be rid of her as she is a sign of Jalil's dalliance, a constant
reminder of their shame. After the meeting, Afsoon escorts Mariam back to her room, locking the door
behind her.
Part 1: Chapter 8
The next morning, Mariam is given new clothes to wear for the wedding ceremony. She is
escorted back to the long, wooden table, and given a green veil to wear over her face. Rasheed, a
heavy, slow-gaited man, enters the room and a Mullah that Mariam has never met performs a
shortened version of the wedding ceremony. As part of the ceremony, the couple look at each other's
faces in a mirror. Mariam, while pleased with her own looks, finds Rasheed unattractive.
After the ceremony, Rasheed waits on the bus to Kabul while Mariam says goodbye to Jalil.
Mariam tells her father that once she worshipped him, but now she never wants to see him again.
Mariam gets on the bus and Jalil pounds at the windows, but she refuses to make eye contact with him.
Rasheed comforts her half-heartedly as the bus pulls into the street.
Part 1: Chapter 9
Rasheed and Mariam arrive at his house in Kabul late the next day. While his two-story home
is much larger than the kolba where Mariam grew up, it's sparsely furnished and in poor condition.
Mariam breaks into tears on her arrival, and while Rasheed puts up with her tears, he lets her know he
hates to hear a woman cry. Rasheed gives Mariam a brief tour of the house, taking her upstairs to the
two bedrooms. Rasheed tells Mariam that he prefers to sleep alone and gives her the guest room.
Mariam is relieved, but still overwhelmed and Rasheed teases her again before letting her settle into
her new room.
Part 1: Chapter 10
Over the next few days, Mariam and Rasheed settle into a temporary routine. Rasheed leaves
for work in the morning and Mariam spends her days either in bed or fretfully pacing the small house.
After eating dinner alone, Rasheed knocks on Mariam's bedroom door and sits in the doorway telling
her about his day. After a week of this, Rasheed informs Mariam that the next day she must begin her
wifely duties.
The next morning, Mariam wakes up, cleans the house, soaks lentils and vegetables, and
makes dough for bread. She walks down the street to the community tandoor oven to cook her bread,
following the women and children heading to the same destination. She's surprised by the women's
talk of ungrateful husbands and wonders how so many women end up in such bad marriages. While
waiting in line she meets Fariba and her son, Noor. Fariba makes friendly talk with Mariam, trying to
make her feel welcome. Soon all of the neighborhood women have crowded around Mariam, asking
her about the children she plans to have and how she's settling in with Rasheed. Overwhelmed,
Mariam flees the women and gets hopelessly lost trying to find her way back home.
Later that evening, Rasheed enjoys the daal and rice Mariam made for dinner, and Mariam
experiences a moment of pride in having made a satisfactory meal. During dinner, Rasheed presents
Mariam with a burqa, explaining that he's a traditional man and he feels a wife's face should only be
seen by her husband, adding that he deplores the "modern" men and women he sees in the more
wealthy sections of Kabul. While Mariam has always worn a headscarf, she's surprised by the burqa,
but quietly takes it from Rasheed.
Part 1: Chapter 11
Mariam puts on the burqa with Rasheed's help. At first Mariam finds it disorienting to see the
world through a screen and to have her peripheral vision inhibited. Once she's dressed, Rasheed takes
her for a tour of Kabul; they visit a park, eat kebabs and ice cream, and go to Chicken Street, a
marketplace for the upper class of Kabul. Throughout the tour, Mariam is struck by the "modern"
women, as Rasheed calls them, women wearing makeup and short skirts. Rasheed greets several
fellow shopkeepers on their tour, but does not introduce Mariam or bring her into these conversations.
At the end of their trip, he buys her a beautiful shawl, which Mariam finds very touching.
Later that evening after they've returned home, Rasheed comes to Mariam's room and has sex
with her, despite her initial protests. A virgin and very frightened of the experience, Mariam is racked
with pain and confusion after they finish, even though Rasheed has assured her there's nothing
shameful about a husband and wife making love.
Part 1: Chapter 12
Ramadan, a month-long religious observance in which Muslims fast during the day and eat
after sunset, arrives a few months after Mariam moves in with Rasheed. Mariam enjoys the fact that
she's finally celebrating within a larger religious community. Rasheed, however, observes the fast only
occasionally and gets angry and short-tempered when he does not eat. The month of fasting ends with
a three-day holiday called Eid-ul-Fitr, during which the entire community celebrates with gift giving
and fireworks. Rasheed and Mariam go to a nearby park and watch fireworks. As she's watching the
fireworks, Mariam realizes how much she enjoys being part of the citywide celebration, and wishes
her mother could be with her to see her new, contented life.
On the second day of Eid-ul-Fitr, Rasheed invites over a few male guests. When they arrive,
Mariam retreats to her room so they cannot see her, a practice that makes her aware of how much
Rasheed prizes her. The next day Rasheed leaves to call on other friends and Mariam cleans the house.
Her cleaning leads her to Rasheed's bedroom, which she has never entered before. Despite her guilt,
Mariam snoops and goes through his bureau. In one drawer Mariam finds a gun, which she assumes is
for protection. Nestled below the gun are pornographic magazines, which shock Mariam. But she lets
it slide, having decided that Rasheed is a man with male needs who was without a wife for so long.
Mariam looks in another drawer to find pictures of Rasheed's dead wife and son. Mariam
lingers over the picture of the three of them, noticing how his first wife is beautiful but sullen, and
seems to be pulling away from Rasheed's embrace. Mariam spends the rest of the day mulling over
what she's discovered. She is comforted by the idea that they've both lost people they love but are now
able to build a new life together.
Part 1: Chapter 13
As the first snow drapes Kabul, Mariam and Rasheed ride the bus home from the doctor, both
elated with the news they're going to be parents. Rasheed insists the baby will be a boy, but Mariam's
just happy to be pregnant.
The next day, Mariam discovers Rasheed in the tool shed building a crib for the baby. While
touched by his effort, Mariam is also worried about Rasheed's unyielding faith that they'll be having a
little boy. Soon after, Rasheed invites some male friends over to celebrate Mariam's pregnancy.
Mariam cleans and cooks for the men before retreating to her room. She can hear the men playing
musical instruments and laughing and singing and she shares in their joy, although she's sequestered
from them. Mariam prays to Allah, thanking him for this gift. She's overjoyed at the prospect of being
a mother and starting a family like the one she dreamt of sharing with Jalil and her half-siblings.
Rasheed suggests he and Mariam go to the haman, or bathhouse, where Mariam suffers a
miscarriage. Rasheed and Mariam return to the doctor, who cannot find a reason for the miscarriage,
which leaves the grieving couple without answers. Mariam and Rasheed return home and Mariam lies
down on the couch and watches the snow fall. She remembers that Nana once called snow the sighs of
upset women.
Part 1: Chapter 14
Mariam grapples with her grief over the miscarriage, wavering between sadness and anger as
she tries to blame first Rasheed, then God, for her loss. In the end, her sadness mixes with guilt.
Mariam knows these are uncharitable thoughts and she prays and asks for forgiveness.
Rasheed also mourns, but does so by avoiding Mariam. He talks less and spends most of his
time in his room, smoking cigarettes. One night when Rasheed and Mariam are listening to the radio,
Mariam asks if he's angry with her and Rasheed — ironically — becomes angry and insists he is not.
Mariam suggests they have a private burial ceremony for their lost child, but Rasheed dismisses the
notion, saying he's already buried one son too many. Some days later, Mariam holds the ceremony
alone. She buries in their yard the coat Rasheed had bought for the boy.
Part 1: Chapter 15 - April 1978
Four years pass between chapters 14 and 15; it is now April 1978. Mariam is 19 years old and
has been married to Rasheed for four years, during which time she's suffered six more miscarriages.
The chapter opens with news that Mir Akbar Khyber, a noted communist, has been murdered.
Allegations point to President Khan's regime as committing the crime. Mariam and Rasheed listen to
the news on the radio and Mariam asks questions about the communist party. Rasheed dismisses her
curiosity as ignorance and stupidity. As Rasheed has become quicker to anger and more physically
abusive in the years of their marriage, Mariam now fears him. Mariam is relieved when Rasheed
retreats to his bedroom with the radio.
Ten days later, Mariam and Rasheed awake to the sound of military planes passing overhead
and explosions in the distance. Later that day, Air Force Colonel Abdul Qader makes a radio
announcement that the communist rebels have overtaken the government and executed many of
Khan's family and followers. After Rasheed says that the wealthy could suffer in a Communist regime,
Mariam wonders how Jalil and his family are faring. Later that night, Fariba gives birth to a daughter,
Laila, and her sons and husband crowd around her in joy.
At dinner, Rasheed spits out the rice Mariam's made, telling her it's undercooked. Rasheed
storms outside and brings in a handful of pebbles, which he forces Mariam to chew. Two of her
molars break.

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