Mariam grows up in a small shack outside of the city of Herat. She was brought up to know her place in society as a 'harami,' or bastard child. She is a strong girl who questions authority and dreams of bigger things for herself - far beyond what she finds within the walls of her small shack. Though she is raised by Nana, her mother, she is very fond of her estranged father, Jalil. After falling into deep despair following her mother's death, Mariam is abandoned by Jalil, who marries her off to Rasheed, despite her attempts to remain single. Her childless marriage to Rasheed eventually forces her into a life of submission and misery until close to the end of her life, when Laila provides her with some hope. At the end of the novel, Mariam rises up in revenge and strikes Rasheed dead. She ultimately is tried and executed by the Taliban for her actions.
Jalil is Mariam's father, a rich movie theater owner who lives in Herat. To Mariam, Jalil is an amazing father - and a paragon of virtue - but to Mariam's mother he has neglected his obligations to his family. Jalil has two legitimate wives and ten other children in addition to Mariam. When Nana dies, Mariam is sent to Jalil's house, but his other wives refuse to keep her in the house. Jalil then decides to cast Mariam off, giving her up to marry Rasheed. Later on, Jalil regrets his harsh treatment of Mariam, and attempts to contact her to apologize.
Nana is Mariam's mother and Jalil's wife. Nana lived as Jalil's housemaid until she became pregnant with Jalil's baby, Mariam. Jalil cast Nana out of his household and built her the shack in which she and Mariam live. Though throughout the novel there are references to Nana's life as an individual prior to her connection to Jalil, Nana's life revolves around her role as Mariam's mother. Nana clings to Mariam as her only strong familial connection, and when Mariam begins to attempt to deepen her relationship with Jalil, Nana kills herself.
Muhsin and Ramin
Muhsin and Ramin are two of Jalil's sons from his legitimate wives. They live with Jalil in Herat, and they bring rations to Nana and Mariam. Mariam and Nana throw rocks at the boys when they come to the kolba, but Mariam does want to learn more about them.
Nana's friend, Bibi Jo, visits their small shack to ritually bring her complaints and gossip. Bibi Jo's husband was a friend of Nana's father. Bibi Jo often reveals information about Jalil that Nana would not be able to obtain from other sources.
Mullah Faizullah is Mariam's tutor, who teaches her more than just lines from the Koran and how to read. Over time, Mullah Faizullah becomes a source of strength and comfort for Mariam. Often Mariam confides in Mullah Faizullah, as he respects her not only as a student, but he also recognizes her potential for greatness. After Nana's death, Mariam begs to be allowed to live with Mullah Faizullah, but Jalil refuses.
Afsoon is one of Jalil's wives and the mother of Nilofaur. Soon after Mariam's arrival to Jalil's home, Afsoon and the other wives decide that Mariam can not stay, as she is illegitimate. The night after Mariam was told of her forced marriage to Rasheed, Afsoon locked Mariam's door so that she could not run away.
Nilofaur is Jalil's and Afsoon's eight year-old daughter. She meets Mariam when Mariam is staying at Jalil's house following Nana's death. Young Nilofaur is very free with her words, and she confesses to Mariam that her mother said that Mariam was not really her sister. Yet, with her caring nature, Nilofaur assures Mariam that she does not mind if Mariam is her sister.
Rasheed is Jalil's friend and Mariam's husband. He is a huge man who owns a shoe repair shop, and he is significantly older than Mariam. Rasheed has a troubled past, as his first wife and son have both died. Rasheed is very stern, has a hot temper, and has high hopes for having children, specifically boys. He has very particular hypocrisies for his observance for Islam. For instance, he requires the women in his household to wear burqas when appearing in public, but he does not fast on Ramadan. Rasheed ultimately becomes abusive to his wives and daughter, to the point of near murder.
Fariba is a woman who lives in Kabul and tries to befriend Mariam. Her husband is Hakim, and she has three children, Ahmad, Noor, and Laila. After Ahmad and Noor leave to fight in the jihad, Fariba stays in her bed grieving. She wishes to stay in Afghanistan in order to see the freedom of the land that her sons died for, but she is forced to move when Laila is almost killed on the streets of Kabul. However, before they can move to Pakistan, she is killed when a bomb hits her home.
Hakim is Fariba's husband and Laila's father, an intellectual who loves books and study. While valuing a woman's education is not the cultural norm in Kabul, Hakim fosters Laila's potential. He challenges her to think in new ways and work hard. Hakim loves discovery and history. Like his wife, he has a strong love for Afghanistan, but he also senses the urgency in moving for Laila's sake. However, he is loyal to his wife, and respects her wishes, almost to the point of submission. He ultimately dies in the bomb blast along with his wife.
Laila is the daughter of Hakim and Fariba, raised to appreciate education and to live up to her full potential. Her father tells her she will change Afghanistan, and her friends tell her she will be on the front page of the newspaper. Laila is in love with Tariq, but she eventually becomes Rasheed's second wife.
Hasina is one of Laila's close friends. She, Giti, and Laila all go to school together and play in the streets of Kabul. Hasina gets married and moves away from Afghanistan.
Giti, like Hasina, is one of Laila's friends. During wartime, she got struck with a bomb on the streets of Kabul. She was killed in a most gruesome way, and the death devastated not only her family, but Laila, and the community as well.
Ahmad and Noor
Ahmad and Noor are Laila's brothers, who fight in the jihad against the Soviets. They are loyal to their cause, and ultimately die for it. Laila was too young when they left for the jihad to really recall their personalities. Fariba mourns their death through remaining bed-ridden.
Tariq is Laila's next door neighbor, a few years older than Laila. Tariq lost a leg during a war, and many of the people in the neighborhood refer to him as the cripple. Yet, Tariq has a strong heart, and he stands up for Laila when she gets picked on. Tariq and Laila fall in love and conceive a child, but then Tariq's family moves to Pakistan to avoid further violence in Kabul. Though Laila is told Tariq has died, he returns to Kabul years after Laila has married Rasheed, and after Rasheed's death, the two of them and their children move to Pakistan. Tariq and Laila are eventually married.
Khadim is a child who lives near Laila and harasses her. The most heinous of his actions involved him squirting her with a squirt gun filled with urine. When Tariq is around to defend Laila, he beats Khadim up. Ultimately, Khadim leaves Laila alone.
Aziza is Laila's and Tariq's daughter, born and raised in Rasheed's household. Though Rasheed has much disdain for Aziza, she remains a happy child with a great affinity for Mariam. During hard economic times, Rasheed decides to put Aziza into an orphanage in order to save money. In the orphanage, Aziza begins to develop a slight stammer, which subsides once she moves with Laila and Tariq to Pakistan.
Zalmai is Laila's and Rasheed's son, whom Rasheed spoils. Zalmai truly worships his father and believes he can do no wrong. Zalmai ultimately tells Rasheed about Laila's interaction with Tariq, causing Rasheed to beat Laila to near death. Following Rasheed's death, Zalmai is depressed and confused, and he refused to accept Tariq. Yet, after living in Pakistan and returning to Afghanistan, Zalmai begins to accept Tariq as a father figure.
Zaman is the kind director of the orphanage where Aziza stays during hard times in Kabul. He is an educated man who believes in the education of the children who live in the orphanage. When Laila and Tariq move back to Kabul, they work closely with Zaman to improve the quality of the orphanage.
Salim is an elderly man whom Tariq meets while in a Pakistani prison. Salim connects Tariq with Sayeed, who owns a hotel. Sayeed ultimately hires Tariq and allows him to start his life over after his prison sentence.
Sayeed is Salim's brother, who owns a hotel and employs Tariq, ultimately allowing Tariq to get back on his feet following his prison sentence, and to adjust back into serving as a part of the real world. Sayeed treats Tariq well, pays him, houses him, and even fits him with a new leg. Eventually Laila and Tariq move to Sayeed's hotel to work there together, with the children in tow.
Hamza is Mullah Faizullah's son, with whom Laila connects near the end of the novel. Hamza welcomes Laila, as she visits Herat, and he gives her a box that Jalil left for Mariam through Mullah Faizullah. Hamza also shows Laila around Herat, and brings her to the kolba.
A Thousand Splendid Suns Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Thousand Splendid Suns is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.