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Maureen

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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This thread will open on the 1st of March.

 

It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts.

 

Synopsis from the book depository:

 

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry the troubled and bitter Rasheed, who is thirty years her senior. Nearly two decades later, in a climate of growing unrest, tragedy strikes fifteen-year-old Laila, who must leave her home and join Mariam's unhappy household. Laila and Mariam are to find consolation in each other, their friendship to grow as deep as the bond between sisters, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. With the passing of time comes Taliban rule over Afghanistan, the streets of Kabul loud with the sound of gunfire and bombs, life a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear, the women's endurance tested beyond their worst imaginings. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism. In the end it is love that triumphs over death and destruction. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an unforgettable portrait of a wounded country and a deeply moving story of family and friendship. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely bond and an indestructible love.

 

Some basic questions to consider:

 

1. Who was your favourite character and why?

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

A couple of discussion questions from the author's site:

 

6. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this sentiment informs Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.

 

7. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?

 

And some of my own:

 

8. When we chose this book for the Reading Circle, I thought that if it had been written by a woman, it would be more credible - as she would be able to put herself in Mariam's or Liala's shoes more convincingly. Do you think the author's sex influenced at all?

 

9. How did you feel about Tariq's return?

 

10. At one time Laila's father told her 'It is a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan'. Did your perception of life for women in Afghanistan change at all after reading this book?

 

 

11. Is there a particular passage which has haunted you, even after some time has passed since finishing this book?

12. The book describes Afghanistan's enchantment with the film Titanic, and its popularity on the blackmarket. Is it this particular film, which was so well liked, or is this a substitute for something else?

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I haven't had a chance to even pick mine up yet, but I promise I will this very month - I'll just keep popping back in as I get on with it. :smile2:

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Yay for my first reading circle!

Gah! I have been waiting to talk about this for days! I found a Thousand Splendid Suns to be so powerful book that it is still playing on my mind... (Can I say sorry for this being an essay here?)

 

BE CAREFUL LADIES AND GENTS – HERE BE SPOILERS!

1. Who was your favourite character and why?

It really is for me a tossup between the women – Laila, Mariam and poor little Aziza. All of them suffered different as well as collective griefs and they did so with such grace and strength. It was so interesting when the three of them came together and changed each other’s outlook on life. Laila I think would pip the others to the post though. She was so strong and such a good mother. She gave up what little she had left to protect Aziza when she married Rasheed. I never did figure out the age gap, but there was 25/30 years between him and Mariam so it must have been 35/40 for him and Laila. To marry him after knowing true love with Tariq wasn’t easy for her but she did it for her baby.

 

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

 

Favourite moments in the book...

 

Edited by Jessi

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SPOILERS - I will also come back to edit some of the answers :smile2:

 

 

1. Who was your favourite character and why?

 

I think my favourite character was Laila, for her sheer courage and need to find a better life for her, Mariam and her children. She hated being oppressed and whilst other women sat back and accepted it, Laila was always trying to find ways to overcome and fight this oppression. She never gave up, even enduring near death.

 

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

 

At the start, I enjoyed Hosseini's description of Herat, and Mariam's feelings towards her Jalil. I also liked the way Laila's and Tariq's love was crafted out. I was saddened that Mariam was executed for the murder of Rasheed, as he more than deserved it, but again was warmed when Jalil's letter was given to Laila. I liked the fight in Laila, and reading about her childhood with Babi.

 

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

 

This is the first book I've read of this kind, and by the author too. Now I am a little more enlightened by the honest plight. I will seek to read out more.

 

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

 

I found it difficult to get my head round all the politics and leaders, but that is more to do with my ability to remember things than the writing.

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

A couple of discussion questions from the author's site:

 

6. Mariam

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1. Who was your favourite character and why?

 

Deciding on a favourite character is difficult, so I'm going for three Mariam. Laila and Tariq. Mariam is strong and despite all the happens to her, she protects Laila and Aziza. Laila for being a good mother and supporting Mariam. Tariq for his spirit and enlightened outlook.

 

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

 

enjoyed the following:

Laila protecting Mariam from Rasheed

Mariam bonding with Aziza

Tariq's return

Rasheed's death

 

found these parts saddening:

Mariam losing her baby

All the abuse Mariam suffered at the hands of Rasheed

Mariam's death

 

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

 

This is the first book I've read by this author. 'The Kite runner' is on my wishlist.

 

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

 

No, as I was aware of the attitudes towards women in the Afghan culture. As Hosseini reminds us, similar attitudes are prevalent in other countries as well.

 

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

Enjoyable, in that the story was told well and provided an insight to the society and its attitudes.

 

6. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this sentiment informs Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.

 

Her mother takes a defiant stand to the world, staying as independent as she can. She tries to instil into Mariam the same distrust of the world and men as she feels. Mariam absorbs some of this, as she is somewhat independent and carries on regardless. This spirit of independence helps her cope with the abuse from Rasheed and to support Laila.

 

7. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?

 

Mariam's outrage stems from two sources.

Firstly she feels threatened by Laila, since it appears that Mariam is to be Laila's servant. When she realises that Laila isn't a threat, rather a victim as we find out, then the hostility disappears.

 

Secondly she feels outrage, as she isn't comfortable with the idea of polygamy. Why inflict the misery she puts up with, on Laila. Mariam intuitively knows that Rasheed will end up treating Laila in much the same way he treats her.

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1. Who was your favourite character and why?

I think my favourite character was Laila, I found her the easiest person to relate to.

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

I felt really sorry for Mariam when she waited outside her Father's house all night, and then to go home and feel the guilt of your Mothers suicide.

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

No, I've also read The Kite Runner but I prefer this book to that one, I feel I can sympathise with the characters more easily in aTSS.

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

I found it difficult to understand Mariam's calm acceptance of her fate especially at the end of the book.

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

No, it was a well written book and it made me more aware of how lucky I am to have been born in this country with the choices I have.

 

As to the other questions - I will have to get back to them when I've had more time to think on the answers.

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OK have thought about the others now :smile2:

 

6. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this sentiment informs Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.

 

Mariam has this as her mantra throughout life - she never really enjoys happiness apart from when she is alone with Laila and the children in the latter chapters, but for the best part, she is on a constant battle against various factors. She is simply enduring a life, because she knows no different. But these words help her and give her guidance when Laila appears, because she can channel them through to the younger girl and show her that people will always be about to make you question yourself, but you need to rise above it.

7. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?

I feel there is a different take on Mariam's hostility towards Laila - I think that Mariam has always tried to do right - when she went behind her mothers back to seek out her father, she may have made a subconscious pact to make sure whatever she did from thereon in, she would do it to the best of her ability. Laila coming along into her family impacted on that - she was no longer the carer for Rasheed, she was no longer the favourite - she no longer had the same importance to her husband therefore she couldn't do the right thing that she had promised herself she would.

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On the Laila/Mariam conflict, I think Rasheed didnt consider Mariam more value than a worm, even before Laila came onto the scene. After her miscarriage, in his eyes she wasn't a woman, she couldn't care for him as he wanted. His attitude is wrong. As it turns out Laila becomes 'available', so he charms her, with the intention of discarding Laila as he does Mariam, so long as he gets what he wants - a son. As far as Rasheed is concerned the only thing that matters is his son, those who bore his son/cared for his son are mere servants at best.

Edited by sirinrob

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I agree sirinrob, and was thinking about Rasheeds treatment of the two of them. Even before the miscarriage, Rasheed told Mariam he would rather sleep alone but as soon as he married Laila, I got the impression they shared a bed. I know there was not another room in the house but surely if this was true he would have put a bed in Mariams room for Laila?

I am beginning to think even when Mariam was capable of giving him the longed for boy he never really liked her.

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Yes , Rasheed and Laila shared a bed, but recall how she used her knife to cut her finger and 'pretend' he had deflowered her. As events unfold, Laila prevents Mariam from being beaten and that same night sleeps downstairs with the baby (Aziza).

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Oh yeah, so they didn't share a bed every night! Thanks for the memory jog :smile2: Though of course she must have moved back in at some point because of Zalmai.

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1. Who was your favourite character and why?

It is difficult to choose between Mariam and Laila, the two main characters in the book. Mariam had such a hard, sad and cheerless life, yet she remained good at heart, and in the end gave up her own life for love.

 

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

I hated the torture scenes -to me torturing another person just because you are stronger is despicable. I loved the part when Tariq returned ( I had suspected he was not really dead in the first place) I also loved the part when Maryam killed Rasheed - I wanted to go in the book and do it myself! :smile2:

 

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

It's the first in this genre, and I have picked up another couple of similar books after reading this. I have already read Hosseini's The Kite Runner.

 

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

The names of the various leaders tend to be confusing at times.

 

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

I enjoyed reading the book - although the story is certainly a difficult and painful one.

 

6. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this sentiment informs Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.

I think Mariam's life was all about enduring - from the time she was born to the time she killed Rasheed. Even her own mother did not treat her as she should have - she blamed Mariam for her mistakes and never let her forget it. She blamed her for being a Harati, when she was the one who made her so, and treated her always as if she should have been grateful that she provided what she could for her. I guess it is also a matter of perspective - I do not expect my son to be grateful that I provide food and shelter for him, but see it as my duty as his mother to do so.

 

7. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?

Even if her existance was wretched and sad, at least when Rasheed was away, she was 'Queen' of the room she lived in. If someone else came to live there, she could not even lay claim to that. She must also feel threatened by the fact that Laila is young, beautiful and probably fertile, while she is now older, had never been beautiful and unfortunately lost 6 children.

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1. Who was your favourite character and why?

I think Mariam was probably my favourite character, she endured so much from the time she was born until the day she killed Rasheed, despite everything she`d been through and the bitterness she could have lived with she loved Laila and her children, Laila was the daughter Mariam never had.

I also admired Laila for the sacrifice she made for her unborn child, she gave herself to Rasheed for the sake of her baby.

 

2.Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

I found the part where Mariam went to find her father and slept outside his house because he wouldn`t see her so sad, she had so totally believed in him and was rejected.

I also hated the part when Mariam, Laila and the children were returned to Rasheed after their failed escape attempt, and the way they suffered in the days that followed at Rasheeds hands, it was so sad especially worrying about Aziza, I thought she was going to die.

 

3. Was this the first book you`ve read in this genre/by this author?

I had previously read The Kite Runner.

 

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with.

I sometimes found names and places hard to remember and the fact that girls like Mariam were married to much older men even against their will and the way women were treated generally hard to accept.

 

5. Overall was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

It wasn`t an easy book to read because of the issues within it, but I did enjoy reading it.

 

6 & 7

I`ll return to these questions later.

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8. When we chose this book for the Reading Circle, I thought that if it had been written by a woman, it would be more credible - as she would be able to put herself in Mariam's or Liala's shoes more convincingly. Do you think the author's sex influenced at all?

One time when I thought the author's statement was unbelievable, was when he stated that Mariam or Laila felt that wearing the burqa gave her a measure of freedom, as it was like looking through a one way mirror, I think he said, or words to that effect. I do not think that having to cover your face al the time, or else, will ever make any one feel anything but frustrated and depressed.

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8. When we chose this book for the Reading Circle, I thought that if it had been written by a woman, it would be more credible - as she would be able to put herself in Mariam's or Liala's shoes more convincingly. Do you think the author's sex influenced at all?

 

One time when I thought the author's statement was unbelievable, was when he stated that Mariam or Laila felt that wearing the burqa gave her a measure of freedom, as it was like looking through a one way mirror, I think he said, or words to that effect. I do not think that having to cover your face al the time, or else, will ever make any one feel anything but frustrated and depressed.

 

 

When I read that part in the book I was surprised and spent a while thinking about it. I could only imagine it being true of a woman severely lacking in confidence and self esteem - which maybe Mariam was at that time?

I didn`t give a thought to the fact a man had written it or whether a woman would have thought differently.

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I'm not certain but I think Laila as well, was portrayed as feeling so - there was a particular passage when she was out with Rasheed, stumbling while walking wearing the burqa, I believe? Mariam could be described as lacking in confidence and self esteem, but, to me, Laila was a strong, confident and beautiful woman, and had a different upbringing than Mariam.

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I`m not sure but I think Laila liked the fact nobody would recognise her when she wore the burqa, her friends expected her to do something with her life unlike them who expected to be married with children at a very young age. I think Mariam and Laila both had different reasons for liking the burqa.

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the comment the author makes regarding wearing the burqa is very perceptive - it gives the woman the freedom to wear the burqa and nothing else, within it she has a space that is her's, as it has a veil she can pull faces and get away with it :lol:. A female friend of mine once tried wearing one for a weekend and despite initial doubts, really found it as she put, fun.

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It could be fun, perhaps, if you put it on just beacuse you want to, for a period of time, (just like it could be fun wearing an intricate carnival costume)but I doubt it would be fun if it has to be put on to go out, or else you get beaten.

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Totally agree. It's the enforcement of a 'uniform' that is the issue, not the 'uniform' itself, in this case a burqa. My previous post was not clear enough :lol: A quick reread confirmed what I suspected, Rasheed very early on, chapter 10, makes Mariam wear a burqa, so the enforcement at least for Mariam occurs before the Taliban's insistence.

Edited by sirinrob

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9. How did you feel about Tariq's return?

When reading the part describing his 'death', I was not convinced it was true. It might be that the author capably described it in such a way as to make the reader question the authenticity of the claim. However it does drive home the lengths Rasheed went to, to manipulate, not just one, but two women (at least - cause we know little about his first marriage) - perhaps as a means to an end, as well - that of getting a son.

 

Also Laila, strong and shrewd as she is, let herself be manipulated in this case - although she had her own agenda - so she was manipulating Rasheed and the situation to fit in with her own needs to. (I can only imagine what an unmarried mother would have to face in Afganistan, especially during the Taliban's reign.)

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I found the description of Tariq's 'death' unconvincing, so was fully prepared for his return. His return had consequences for Mariam and Laila, that Tariq could not have foreseen. He stood by Laila, Aziza and Zamali, which confirmed for me his sincerity. I think he would have tried to persuade Mariam to flee as well, but given her stubbornness he didn't stand much chance.

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9. How did you feel about Tariq's return?

I was so happy when he came back that I nearly cried. He was always going to be the hero of the book wasn't he? When he reappeared I knew that he was going to save Laila. There was no way that he was going to leave her - I especially loved the reaction he had to being a father, he just seemed to want to go straight to Aziza then. So sweet :lol:

 

I didn't see it coming I must admit - it was the best surprise of the book for me!

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I wasn`t convinced of Tariqs death either so it wasn`t a surprise that he returned to find Laila - I breathed a sigh of relief at his return any way!

Although I knew what sort of man Rasheed was, I was surprised at the lengths he went to to decieve Laila, perhaps I shouldn`t have been though because I wasn`t surprised he knew about Aziza being Tariqs child.

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