A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

The year is 1987, nine years after the story leaves off in Chapter 15. Laila is a beautiful nine year old, and her friend Tariq has left Kabul to visit his uncle. Laila misses Tariq immensely, and time goes by slowly for her. Laila's parents are arguing as they often did. Laila's father, Hakim, is an Afghan history expert. He is often verbally abused by Fariba, Laila's mother, who insults him incessantly. Laila recalled that there was a time when Fariba used to be charmed by Hakim, but now their relationship is based solely in arguments. Laila's brother Ahmad has joined the jihad against the Soviets.

On the way to school, Laila notices a Mercedes Benz across the street from Mariam and Rasheed's house with license plates from Herat, which obviously indicate that Jalil was in town. Laila attends a school where she has an abusive teacher who preaches gender equality and Soviet communism. The teacher refers to Laila as "Revolutionary Girl" because her birthday coincides with the date of the revolution. In politics, President Reagan has begun supporting the Afghans, along with much of the Arab world.

Laila walks home with her friends Hasina and Giti, discussing suitors and how to repel the unattractive ones. Laila feels that her father would not find her a suitor until after she finished her schooling. Hakim believes in Laila's potential. Hasina would most likely be married off sooner. She teases Laila about her relationship with Tariq, and it is revealed that Tariq only has one leg, because he suffered a war injury.

Laila passes the Mercedes Benz again that was parked in front of Mariam and Rasheed's house. She turns around and finds a squirt gun in her face, held by a boy named Khadim who is 11 years old and proposes marriage to Laila. Khadim teases Laila about Tariq, and then Khadim squirts her with the gun. Laila curses at Khadim and his friends, and the boys reveal that they actually squirted her with urine.

As Laila washes up, she reflects on missing Tariq and her mother's neglect in raising her. If her mother had picked her up from school as promised, Laila would have never had to suffer Khadim's harassment. Sometimes Laila's mother has "good days" where she reflects on her nostalgic happiness. Laila's parents are a love match as opposed to an arranged marriage, as in the case of Mariam and Rasheed. Fariba would often talk about marrying off Laila's brothers Ahmad and Noor. Laila often feels left out of these conversations, and thinks instead about Tariq.

Laila's mother collects momentos of Ahmad and Noor's fight against the Soviets, including news clippings about Soviet attacks on villagers and children. Fariba stays in bed all day and has a lukewarm reaction when Laila tells her that the boys squirted her with urine. Laila sees the Benz leave from Mariam and Rasheed's house. Laila's mother promises that she will pick Laila up from school the next day.

Tariq does not come back when expected, so Laila starts doing chores around the house to fill time. Laila begins to worry that Tariq has been hit by another land mine. One night, Tariq finally returns. His extended absence was due to his uncle having his second heart attack. Laila's father explains that Tariq's people (Pashtuns) and her people (Tajiks) have tension, because the Tajiks barely ruled Afghanistan, while the Pashtuns ruled most of the time. Laila's father believes in unity, but speaks of the rivalry.

Laila flashes back to the first time that she saw Tariq's stump. She recalls that she cried when he told her that it felt sore. Laila tells Tariq that she has missed him, and she thinks she sees Tariq blush. Laila tells Tariq how Khadim squirted her with urine, and Tariq beats Khadim. This results in Khadim leaving Laila alone.

Fariba does not eat with her family. Hakim and Laila, meanwhile, eat together and Hakim helps Laila with her homework. Communists fire Hakim from working at school, but Hakim still remains hopeful about the political changes, because the Communists have focused on literacy initiatives for women, and as a result, women are enrolling more frequently at the University in Kabul. Hakim keeps pro-communist talk to a minimum because Fariba disapproves. Kabul has always been a more progressive area of Afghanistan, but the lives of women in the rural areas are now changing as well.

A stranger comes to the door with news that Ahmad and Noor died in the jihad. The funeral rituals are observed. Laila's mother is grief stricken as the family accepts visitors, and she asks that Hakim be kept away from her. Tariq's mother visits, and Mariam does as well. Laila finds it difficult to empathize with her mother because she has never known her brothers. Instead she considers Tariq her true brother.

Fariba takes ill with night terrors and grief, and so Laila takes her to a doctor. No physical illness is found. Laila becomes responsible for more chores and wishes that Fariba would recognize her potential for the future instead of dwelling on the past. Laila is nervous that her mother will kill herself, so she confronts her. Fariba says that she had thought about suicide, but wants to see a free Afghanistan for her boys. Laila is hurt that her mother does not say that she wants to stay alive for her.


The subtle mention that Laila sees a Mercedes Benz from Herat has larger implications for the novel. On the one hand, it advances the previous plot, in suggesting that the reader can assume Jalil is visiting Mariam and Rasheed for some reason. On the other hand, the interaction between Laila and Rasheed's house provides the reader with a sense of proximity between Laila's world and Mariam's world, which though seemingly distant in their lifestyles, are actually physically very close together. Last, the sighting of the Mercedes foreshadows Laila's later interaction with Jalil, even if it does come after his death.

The relationship budding between the young Laila and Tariq is a refreshing contrast to the harsh reality faced by Mariam and Rasheed. Laila has true feelings for Tariq that she does not seem to understand, and Tariq seems to return these feelings. Though they are not bound by the confines of marriage as Mariam and Rasheed are, their bond with one another seems much more legitimate, and might in fact be considered true love. Their interactions as children certainly foreshadow the love that will grow between them as they transition into adulthood.

The absence of Ahmad and Noor from the house, but consistent discussion of them in the novel introduces the reader to the strong connection Afghan families have to their nation. Ahmad and Noor’s deaths symbolize the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs, and their family's misery following their deaths recounts how the effects of their passing spread far beyond the two of them.

Hakim provides a completely different view of education for women compared with Nana. As a parent, Hakim hopes for a bright future for Laila, and he has faith that his daughter will be successful in the future. This is a stark contrast to Nana's advice to Mariam that school would be wasted on her. By providing insight into both Mariam and Laila's childhoods, Hosseini develops characterization for both women. Such distinct contrasts can be seen between their upbringings that the reader can begin to more thoroughly understand the characters of the two women as adults. Indeed, in specific scenes that parallel each other, such as Hakim educating Laila versus Nana's emphasis on endurance, the reader gets the chance to understand the key differences between Laila and Mariam.

Ahmad and Noor’s deaths symbolize the invasion of Afghan politics into the personal lives of the characters in the novel. However, discussions of communist control and Fariba’s hopeful attitude for the future both foreshadow more interaction between macro-level political change and micro-level character interaction.