A compelling read, A Thousand Splendid Suns looks at gender roles in Afghanistan, as the two female protagonists fight for their way out of persecution and abusive marriages. The novel covers decades of Afghan history and culture from the 1960s to the early 2000s. An overview of Afghan history during this time period, with a focus on the Soviet occupation, civil war, subsequent rise of the Taliban, and later US invasion, will benefit students. Such a history lesson should also examine how these events specifically affected Afghan women.

Class discussion can revolve around the role of women in Afghanistan as well as the traditional aspect of marriage. Students can examine how Miriam and Laila's relationship evolves as they endure hardships together. Due to their significant age difference, Miriam and Laila have different ideas of love and family. Students can discuss how the protagonists' different views reflect cultural changes in Afghanistan as the traditional society gradually becomes more modern.

Summary

A Thousand Splendid Suns follows two Afghan women, Miriam and Laila, whose lives become intertwined by war and marriage. Miriam and Laila endure an abusive husband with strict traditional gender expectations. Although the women are born a generation apart and have different views of love and family, they form a close bond. Through these two female characters, Hosseini explores the turbulent history of Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion, civil war, rise of the Taliban, and US involvement.

Content Warning

This novel contains rape, abuse, and war-related violence.

Objectives for Teaching A Thousand Splendid Suns

  • Understand the political upheaval in Afghanistan and the struggle its people face.
  • Discuss the double standard of behavior of males and females in this novel, and identify ways the double standard is perpetuated.
  • Identify flat and round characters and explain the difference.
  • Trace how the major characters have changed over the course of the book.
  • Identify and analyze symbols in the novel.
  • Explain how setting relates to the characters in this book.
  • Comment on how the shift in tense in the last part of the novel changes the effect of this final section.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Figurative Language
  • Flat Character
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Simile
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Gender — The novel explores the role of women in Afghan society and what they are expected to do in their marriages.
  • Tradition — Many of the marital aspects of the novel come from the traditional side of Afghanistan.
  • Freedom —  By the end of the novel, Mariam and Laila have made their own choices, which signifies how they have reclaimed their personal freedom.

Related Works

Theme of Mortality

 

Theme of Tradition

 

Theme of Freedom

Key Facts

  • Length: 432 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 830
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Awards

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction Books of 2007
  • Amazon's #1 Book of the Year (2007)
  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction (2007)

Movies

A screen adaptation of the novel is in development.

Your students will love:

  • Discovering the gender roles and history of another culture
  • Following the story of Mariam and Laila from when they were girls until they meet as women

Students may have problems with:

  • The violence of war and oppression caused by the Taliban, who continually gain power throughout the novel
  • The flat or static portrayals of many of the characters

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