Culture Desk

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This renowned novel of the Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini (the author of the bestseller The Kite Runner) is essentially a story of Afghan women. It takes place first in Harat and later in Kabul during a time period between the 70’s and 2003, so before and during the Taleban rise in the country and the US-led invasion in 2001. Therefore, the events described in this book are still so relevant nowadays, considering the recent return to power of Taliban in 2021 and the cracking down of women’s rights.

The novel develops around two main characters: Miriam and Leila, the first and second wife of the abusive and violent Rasheed. Miriam is the illegitimate child (harami in the local language) of a wealthy local businessman and his housekeeper: she and her mother are forced to live segregated in a hut, hidden from the man’s official family; her father is ashamed of her and quickly marries her off to Rasheed. They move to Kabul and their relationship gets really hostile especially because Miriam miscarries multiple times and is not able to give him a son.

Leila is the only survivor of her family: her brothers died fighting for the Mujahideen against the Soviets, while her parents are killed by a rocket during the civil war. After discovering that she is pregnant, she agrees to marry Rasheed to protect herself and the baby; but when she gives birth to a girl, Aziza, (via a Caesarian section without anaesthesia), he rejects both of them.

The reader could think that the two women are against each other since they are married to the same husband (who obliges them to wear a burqa long before it is implemented by law); on the contrary, they become confidants and they formulate a plan to run away from Rasheed, but they are caught and severely punished. When the jealous man beats and attempts to strangle Leila, Miriam kills him and is consequently executed. Leila gets married and starts to repair an orphanage, where she works as a teacher.

The novel gives space to the description of the Taliban’s violence and oppression especially against women: Leila suffers several beatings when she is surprised walking alone on the streets; the book also covers the fall of the Taliban regime and the rebuilding of the Afghan society in the following years.

About his visit in Afghanistan in 2003, the author Hosseini declared: “I heard so many stories about what happened to women, the tragedies that they had endured, the difficulties, the gender-based violence that they had suffered, the discrimination, the being barred from active life during the Taliban, having their movement restricted, being banned essentially from practicing their legal, social rights, political rights”.

Riverhead Trades Weekly review states that the novel consistently shows the “patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status.”

Also nowadays the condition of women is tragic: United States withdrew its remaining troops and the Islamic fundamentalist group returned to power from 2021.

Since the first days of the new regime, an increasing number of women took the streets to demonstrate in defense of their rights. Talebans declared that they have to study separated from men, wear the burqa as a mandatory garment and they cannot hold significant political positions; sport in public is forbidden, women are excluded from soap operas and their imagines removed from advertising posters on the Kabul’s streets. Furthermore, they cannot travel more than 75km without the company of a man.

Afghans who protest against these abuses are being threatened, arrested and tortured; women’s rights activists report there have been detentions, forced marriages and rapes.


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