Recently, because of tight schedules, I kind of abandoned my room – let it turn into a messy room. And yesterday I just got the chance to tidy it up. When I was cleaning the room, I found some novels which reminded me to my university time — the time when I was a university student. They were novels that should be read in my prose class. And one that caught my attention most was “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, a novel which gave me so many things to learn and a novel which able to make me cry since the first chapter.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a novel written by Khaled Hosseini in 2007. This novel is Hosseini’s second novel. His first novel is “The Kite Runner” which an international bestseller. In writing his second novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, Hosseini was inspired by his visit to Afghanistan as UNHCR goodwill envoy in 2006.
In his visit Hosseini found out that Afghanistan at that time was extremely different compared to Afghanistan Hosseini once lived there. Poverty, hunger, and violence were all Hosseini see in Afghanistan; war brings them there. One that made Hosseini shocked was the role of women in Afghanistan; no protection and education. Back to the time when Hosseini was child, women in Afghanistan were equal with men. They could go to school to get better education and find proper job, just like his mother who could teach Farsi and History in Kabul.
Mariam and Laila are two major characters in Hosseini’s novel, “A thousand Splendid Suns”. Both of them are the representation of women in Afghanistan. They have different background, ethnics, and age but share the same experience. Something that really interesting for me is the characteristic of Mariam; how she transforms from a simple village girl into a great woman.
The story of the novel begins independently between Mariam and Laila since they live in different house. The connection between them started when a bomb fell into Laila’s house and killed her parents. Rasheed who is Mariam husband took her into his house. This is also the starting point of Mariam’s transformation.
Since Mariam was child, her mother, Nana, called her as harami — a child whose parents are not married, illegitimate daughter. This makes Mariam feel not accepted by her own mother. Moreover she lived in a kolba of a village named Herat where gossip can spread fast.
“You are a clumsy little harami. This is reward for everything I’ve endured. An heirloom-breaking, clumsy little harami.” (p.4)
Mariam had no friends. She spent all day long playing by herself. She was fond of playing marbles which were named as her family members. She couldn’t go to school, and the only lesson she got was Koran lesson from Mullah Faizullah, her mentor. These conditions caused Mariam tend to become an introvert girl. She preferred to do everything by herself and not depended to other people, even to her mother.
Nana, Mariam’s mother, was desperate by her life. Once she left by a man who almost married and then threw away by Jalil, Mariam’s father. Every time Mariam talked about Jalil to her mother, Nana always said that Jalil was a bad man. This made Mariam did not respect her mother. Moreover, Nana always called her harami and blamed her for Nana’s disgraced life, which made Jalil as the one Mariam praised.
A high expectation of her father later caused her fall and disappointed. She always believed that Jalil loved her very much. But one day when Nana died because she was hanging herself on a tree, Mariam realized that Jalil was not as good as she thought before.
Mariam’s disappointment got bigger since Jalil picked a man to be her husband. Rasheed was the name of that chosen man. He was a very rich man with many wives and children. Rasheed was forty years old, while Mariam was fifteen. At first, Mariam refused to get married. She thought that it was her stepmother’s effort to throw her away from Jalil’s house. But, the fact showed that it was actually Jalil who planned the marriage. Mariam’s trust to Jalil broken suddenly. Her sadness became deeper and deeper that she got married by forced.
“I thought about you all the time. I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me.” (p. 54)
Mariam and Rasheed got married. At first Mariam isolated herself inside the house. It happened until Rasheed encouraged and asked Mariam not to just stay in her room and bewailed her condition.
“… He crossed his arms.” I figured you might need some time. But this is absurd. A week’s gone and … Well, then, as of tomorrow morning I expect you to start behaving like a wife. Fahmidi? Is that understood?” (p.63)
Rasheed at first treated Mariam righteously as a wife. But, since Mariam couldn’t give him a son, Rasheed turned into a very mean husband. Being abused by Rasheed and nine times failed to have a baby made Mariam become a tough and mature woman. Besides that, seeing other women in her neighbourhood, who have many children, made Mariam become a woman who accepted her life realistically.
For the next eighteen years Mariam accepted her life together with Rasheed. But one day Rasheed came to the house with a wounded girl, Laila, a fourteen years old girl. Rasheed’s interest toward Laila, a fourteen years old girl, never came to Mariam. Rasheed’s decision to make Laila as his next wife hurt Mariam so deep. Mariam felt that Rasheed betrayed her. All her patience, sacrifice, and loyalty were nothing for Rasheed.
On the other side, Rasheed treated Laila so well. This made Mariam felt jealous toward Laila. For Mariam, Laila’s coming was only a reminder for her failure of being a real wife for Rasheed.
Mariam’s ego ended, later when she realized that Laila got the same treatment from Rasheed. She felt that she had to act. In her thought, Laila should not be like her; a woman with dark past life, unloved and rejected by her own parents, who couldn’t do anything to change it. Mariam decided that it was the time to change. To protect Laila and her children was then Mariam’s aim in her life. Even though it meant that it would cost her life.
“…And Mariam could not, would not, allow that to happen. He’d taken so much from her in twenty-seven years of marriage. She would not watch him take Laila too.” (p. 340)
Mariam’s promise that she would protect Laila and her children was proved when Rasheed tried to kill Laila, not long after Rasheed found out that Laila met Tariq for the second time. She killed Rasheed using a shovel and let Laila and her children go with Tariq to Pakistan. She let herself being jailed and executed by the Taliban.
The moment when Mariam sacrificed herself for Laila’s happiness is the proof of Mariam’s transformation. She could prove that her being rejected and isolated when she was child didn’t become an obstacle for her to grow up into a tough and independent woman. At last, Laila’s and her children’s love that changed Mariam, that made her realize of her precious life.
“… She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident… And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back… Mariam thought, that she should die this way…This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.” (p. 361)
Well, the story is indeed touching, yet inspiring. It shows me different sides of women – delicate, yet very strong. It also shows me that problems are not entirely bad. Somehow, problems make us grow to be a mature person — tranform. They, unconsciously, force us to see the “real” us — our true strength. See, it’s just like Kelly Clarson’s song, what doesn’t kill you make you stronger.
About – message. Khaledhosseinifoundation.org. Retrieved December 19, 2010, from http://www.khaledhosseinifoundation.org/about-message.htm
A Thousand Splendid Suns. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 19, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Thousand_Splendid_Suns
Hosseini, Khaled. 2007. A Thousand Splendid Suns. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Khaled Hosseini. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khaled_Hosseini