A Thousand Splendid Suns

Characters

  • Mariam, an ethnic Tajik born in Herat in 1959. The illegitimate child of Jalil and Nana, his housekeeper, she suffered shame throughout her life due to the circumstances of her birth, and is forced to marry a much older shoemaker and move to Kabul after her mother's death. Hosseini described Mariam as "isolated in every sense of the word. She is a woman who is detached from the day-to-day norms of human existence. Really, she just wants a connection with another human being". Despite initially resenting Laila, she becomes a "friend and a doting alternative mother" to her through the "common hardship" of being married to the "abusive, psychologically imposing" Rasheed.[15] Mariam kills Rasheed while defending Laila, for which she is publicly executed by the Taliban.
  • Laila, an ethnic Tajik born in Kabul in 1978. The only surviving child of Hakim and Fariba after her older brothers die in the Afghan-Soviet War, she is raised by educated parents who educate her, first at school and later at home when Kabul becomes too dangerous. Compared to Mariam, Hosseini noted she "had a much more fulfilling relationship with her father, her [girlfriends] and her childhood friend, Tariq. She expected to finish school and is looking for personal fulfillment. These are two very different representations of women".[15] Laila's life becomes tied with Mariam's when she is forced to marry Rasheed in order to protect herself and her unborn child after the death of her parents and supposed death of Tariq. This initially causes resentment from Mariam, who "[feels] her territory infringed upon".[15] Despite this, "Laila becomes her daughter for all practical purposes" on account of the struggles and abuse they both experience during their marriage. At the end of the novel, Laila returns to Kabul becomes a schoolteacher at an orphanage.[16]
  • Rasheed, an ethnic Pashtun from Kabul who works as a shoemaker. Prior to his marriages to Mariam and Laila, he had a son who drowned; it is suggested in the novel that this happened as a result of Rasheed being drunk while caring for him. Rasheed is an aloof father to his 'daughter' Aziza but is notably much more loving towards his son Zalmai. After suffering years of experiencing domestic abuse, Mariam bludgeons Rasheed to death with a shovel while he attempts to strangle Laila to death. Hosseini hoped to make a multi-layered character with Rasheed, noting "Rasheed's the embodiment of the patriarchal, tribal character. In writing him, I didn't want to write him as an irredeemable villain. He is a reprehensible person, but there are moments of humanity, such as his love for his son."[15] Hosseini identified an encounter with an Afghan man who "had a very sweet, subservient wife" and had not yet informed her that he was planning to marry again" as an inspiration for the character.[15]
  • Tariq, an ethnic Pashtun born in Kabul in 1976 who grew up with Laila. He lost a leg to a landmine at the age of five. They evolve from friends to lovers shortly before he flees Kabul with his family; after a decade of separation, during which time he lives as a refugee in Afghanistan and loses his parents while Laila was led to believe he had died, Tariq and Laila reunite in Kabul. After Rasheed's death they leave for Pakistan and marry, before returning to Kabul, expecting their third child at the end of the novel.
  • Nana, an ethnic Tajik from a village outside Herat who previously worked as a servant for Jalil. Mariam is born as a result of an affair between the two, and Jalil's favouritism towards his wives and legitimate children leaves her bitter towards Jalil. Nana often reports having the jinn inside her; it is hinted in the book that she in reality experiences from mental health difficulties for which she refuses to be medicated. After Mariam leaves the family home for the first time on her own to find Jalil on her fifteenth birthday, Nana hangs herself after Mariam refuses to stay with her.
  • Mullah Faizullah, a local Sufi imam who teaches Mariam the Qur'an and supports her and Nana. He dies of natural causes in 1989.
  • Jalil, a local businessman in Herat who has three wives and nine (later ten) legitimate children in addition to Mariam. While doting on her, his ultimate reluctance to treat her like his legitimate children leads to her breaking off their relationship. Before his death, he expresses regret for his treatment of Mariam.[17]
  • Hakim, Laila's father, a university educated man from Panjshir who works first as a teacher and then at a factory after the war. He is progressive and wishes for Laila to be educated and make her own decisions in life. He is killed in a rocket explosion alongside his wife Fariba while preparing to flee Kabul.[16]
  • Fariba, Laila's mother, originally from Panjshir. She briefly meets Mariam when she first arrives in Kabul, and is depicted as a cheerful woman. Her disposition is permanently changed after her two sons, Ahmad and Noor, are killed in the Afghan-Soviet War. She spends her time mourning in bed until the Mujahideen are victorious over the Soviets. She is later killed in a rocket explosion alongside her husband Hakim as they prepare to flee the city.[16]
  • Aziza, the illegitimate daughter of Laila and Tariq, born in 1993 in Kabul. When Laila learns of Tariq's alleged death, she marries Rasheed in order to hide Aziza's illegitimacy. Aziza's birth marks Laila's fall from favour with Rasheed and leads to the friendship between Mariam and Laila. During a famine, Aziza temporary is placed into an orphanage so she can be fed.[16][18]
  • Zalmai, the legitimate son of Laila and Rasheed, born in 1997 in Kabul. Laila initially considers aborting him due to him being Rasheed's biological child. Zalmai idolises his father despite his abuse of Laila and Mariam. Zalmai remains unaware that Mariam killed Rasheed and is led to believe he has left Kabul. Zalmai does not respect Tariq, but by the end of the novel appears to be accepting him as a father figure.

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