A Splendid Thousand Suns is a tale about the frailty of character of strong men and innate strength of frail women. The novel explores the lives of two Afghan women who belong to totally different backgrounds but are forced to share the same unhappy household. It narrates their tragedies, their unwavering endurances and sacrifices in the face of cruelty and hardships. The backdrop is, once again, the war torn Afghanistan mutilated by forces from within and without. The two women face rejection from their families and their brutal husband, suffer from domestic violence and yet find love, companionship and consolation from each other.
It is the story of Mariam who is an illegitimate child of a wealthy Herati businessman. Jalil did not have the courage to marry her mother after dishonoring her. His weak will perished under pressure from his family and he married the young, innocent girl to Rasheed a brutish cobbler some thirty years her senior. Repeated miscarriages dashed all of Rasheed’s hopes of fathering a son and he subjected Mariam to torture over petty domestic issues. Unwanted, unloved Mariam soldiered on silently till Laila entered her life. Laila was the beloved daughter of a university teacher who imbibes in her his love for education, poetry, art and culture. With Kabul under fire from warlords, Laila’s childhood sweetheart Tariq departs for Pakistan, leaving Laila in a big predicament. To avoid shame, she too marries Rasheed but soon loses her place as the queen of his heart when she gives birth to a daughter. Slowly affection and friendship develops between Laila and older Mariam …a relationship so strong that it transcends all differences and enables them to withstand depravation, starvation and brutality all around them.
Laila also suffers violence at the hands of her husband till one day while he was attempting to strangle her Mariam kills him to save Laila. Laila ultimately finds love and contentment and becomes a teacher in a local orphanage. But more than Laila, it is Mariam who leaves her memories in the hearts of others as bright as the brilliance of a thousand splendid suns.
Khalid Hossieni, through the lives of these women, lays bare the underlying issues that plague Afghanistan today. The women, in an average Afghan household, are still considered worthless. We see glimpses of these in Nana’s words when she says “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” Political unrest, deteriorating law and order situation, years of wars, first as jihad against the Soviet regime and later as warlords and Taliban took over, have left Afghanistan bleeding and made millions of Afghanis homeless and destitute. It is actually their story too as Hossieni tries to show that love and heroism can triumph over death and destruction whether of an individual or a nation.