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Themes of Love in Khaled Hosseini's 'Power of Love In Thousand Splendid Suns'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3100 words Published: 20th Sep 2021

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Little can be done, but re-emphasize the well known masterful creation, of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. His story has stirred the souls of many and opened eyes to the appalling and dismal condition of the state of Afghanistan, due to the many wars played out on its dilapidated soils. Its rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions, do little to veil the suffering faced by all inhabiting this impoverished land. Over the many decades, Afghanistan has been the play ground of various nations, being thieved of any chance of a normal functioning state; further being reduced to anarchic militant state that promotes crimes against humanity such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism and above all heinous violations of the rights of its own peoples.

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The story revolves around a woman, Mariam being sent to marry a harsh orthodox man named Rasheed (in Kabul) at the tender age of fifteen, after losing her mother and being forced to live with her father and his family. Mariam was an unwanted child, who whose mother was the servant of her father (a servant working for her father, who was impregnated with a child in the course of her employment). Being an unwanted child meant that your status was considerably lower than a woman, and if you are an accident who is a girl, then your status is the worst. This was Mariam’s situation.

After being married for sometime and after numerous failed attempts at having a child, she is left alone by her husband; constantly being criticized and regarded was a wasted marriage. Almost two decades later after an extreme tragedy occurs to a girl living in the same neighbourhood (Laila), where her entire family (except her) is wiped out in an air raid where a bomb strikes her house. Mariam nurses Laila back to health and eventually she is forced to marry Rasheed due to having no other suitable option. After bearing a son and a daughter for him, Laila (and Mariam) witness the true nature of Rasheed’s madness (about the same time as the Taliban comes to power)

The cruelty and brutality, which seems to fascinate Rasheed seems lost and inconsequential to both wives. And whilst in a confrontation with him, both wives support each other. In the course of the chaos and anarchy reigning around them and the massive death rate, an old love interest of Laila’s returns, with a harrowing tale of extreme torture and inhumane treatment. And a secret is revealed: Laila’s daughter is actual his daughter and not Rasheed’s. Her desire to be with him resurfaces, but she has little choice but to suppress it as there was NO WAY to escape; the Taliban’s new measures regarding women ensured that. But after a particularly brutal encounter with Rasheed, where he attempts to punish Laila and Mariam, Mariam in self-defence ends up killing the man. Thus their future is secured.

But Mariam’s guilt getting the better of her, leads her to help Laila and the children and her ex-lover to escape whilst she remains behind to take the blame. Laila and the children and her lover manage to escape to Pakistan (where they were formally married) only to be desirous of returning once the Taliban are driven out.

This story is a story of love, conquering hate, violence, anarchy, and any such barriers to humanity shining through. It is in the perspective of two women, with two very different stories, but a common pain: violation, betrayal, and a sense of being imprisoned in a world of domination and little freedom. Their lives (the women’s lives) and the effect that anarchy and war have on their lives, is so beautifully depicted in order to voice the same pain of all peoples of Afghanistan. This book is like a voice, crying out in the pain of all Afghani people, asking the world for a permanent solution to their plight; an end to their endless suffering. Perhaps the most heartening part of the book is how, the author weaves with unbelievable magic, an eternal tale of love that was once lost, being found once again.

Another theme that is fairly important to note is, the good overcoming evil, defeating it and emerging victorious, thus leaving us with a sense of hope for the better future of not just the characters of the book, but for all Afghani people. That is the suffering of the soul is not permanent and that eventually in time, there is relief for that suffering. We follow the characters of Mariam and Laila, as they triumph over their sadistic, violent and extremely tyrannical husband, who cares little for the rights, protection and freedom of women. All the times that Mariam (being the older wife of Rasheed) is beaten and bruised for supposedly influencing the younger wife Laila, does little to diminish the love and loyalty shown by Mariam towards Laila.

The motherly protection, which Mariam dutifully showers upon Laila, is remarkable considering the pain with which Mariam herself was being forced to undergo. This book has many themes that are suggestive of the valiant strength of the human spirit, the undying resilience that people are capable of, despite being in the worst of circumstances themselves.

About the Author

Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan, the oldest of five children, and spent the first years of his childhood in the capital city, Kabul. His family lived in the affluent Wazir Akbar Khan district of the city, in a cultivated, cosmopolitan atmosphere, where women lived and worked as equals with men. His father worked for the foreign ministry, while his mother taught Persian literature, and Khaled grew up loving the treasures of classical Persian poetry. His imagination was also fired by movies from India and the United States, and he enjoyed the sport of kite fighting he portrayed so vividly in his book The Kite Runner.

In the early ’70s, Hosseini’s father was posted to Afghanistan’s embassy in Tehran, Iran, where young Khaled deepened his knowledge of the classical Persian literary tradition that Iran and Afghanistan share. Although Afghan culture lacked a long tradition of the literary fiction, Hosseini enjoyed fireading foreign novels in translation and began to compose stories of his own. He also made the acquaintance of his family’s cook, a member of the Hazara ethnic group, a minority that has long suffered from discrimination in Afghanistan. Young Khaled Hosseini taught the illiterate man to read and write, and gained his first insight into the injustices of his own society.

The Hosseinis were at home in Kabul when the 200-year-old Afghan monarchy was overthrown in 1973. The king’s cousin, Daoud Khan proclaimed himself president of the new republic, but a long era of instability had begun. In 1976, Hosseini’s father was assigned to the embassy in Paris and Khaled moved, with the rest of his family, to France. Although he did not know it at the time, it would be 27 years before he would see his native country again. Only two years after their arrival in Paris, a communist faction overthrew the government of Afghanistan, killing Daoud Khan and his family.

Although the new government was purging civil servants from the old regime, the Hosseinis still hoped that they might be able to return to Afghanistan. Infighting among the new leaders, and armed resistance to the regime in the countryside, plunged the country into chaos. The Hosseinis were still in France when the Soviet army entered Afghanistan in December 1979. The Soviets attempted to reinstate their communist allies, while numerous armed factions attempted to expel them. The Soviet occupation would last nearly a decade, while 5 million Afghans fled their country.

A return to Afghanistan was now out of the question for the Hosseini family, and they applied for political asylum in the United States. Young Khaled arrived in San José, California in the fall of 1980 at age 15, speaking almost no English. Having lost everything, his family subsisted for a time on welfare, and father and son went to work tending a flea market stall alongside fellow Afghan refugees.

In his first year of school in the U.S., Khaled Hosseini struggled with English, but his encounter with John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath rekindled his love of literature, and he began to write stories again, this time in English. Khaled’s father found work as a driving instructor, and the family’s situation gradually improved, but Khaled, as the oldest child, felt a particular responsibility to succeed in the new country.

Determined to make a better life for himself and his family, Khaled Hosseini studied biology at Santa Clara University and medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He completed his residency at UCLA Medical Center and began medical practice in Pasadena. Now married, Khaled and his wife Roya decided to return to Northern California to be nearer their families. Dr. Hosseini joined the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization and settled in Mountain View, California to start a family.

Throughout his medical studies, Hosseini had continued to write short stories in his spare time. Happily settled in his new country, he found his thoughts returning to the land he left behind. After the departure of the Soviets in 1998, the extremist Taliban faction had seized control of Afghanistan, imposing a brutal theocratic rule and providing a base for anti-Western terrorists. Women’s rights, which previous regimes had promoted, were completely eliminated along with all foreign art or culture. Hosseini felt compelled to tell the world something of the life he had known before his country was consumed by war and dictatorship. In 2001, with the encouragement of his wife and father-in-law, he decided to try expanding one of his stories into a novel.

For a year and a half, he rose at four o’clock every morning to work on his novel before a full day of seeing patients. When the United States and allied countries launched military operations in Afghanistan, he considered abandoning the project, but with the defeat of the Taliban, he felt it more important than ever to tell his story to the world. With the eyes of the world turned on his country, he completed his tale of two Afghan boys, childhood friends separated by the calamities of war, and the divergent paths their lives take. Once Hosseini found an agent to handle the manuscript, the book was soon placed with publisher Riverhead Books, a division of the Penguin Group.

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The Kite Runner was published, with little publicity, in 2003. Initial sales of the book in hard-cover were slow, but word of mouth built gradually as copies of the book were passed from reader to reader. The paperback edition found an enthusiastic audience around the world. The Kite Runner spent more than two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and returned to the list, five years after its initial appearance. As of this writing, it has sold more than 12 million copies, with editions published in more than 40 languages. Although it was greeted with acclaim in most circles, some Afghans objected to Hosseini’s portrayal of ethnic prejudice in Afghanistan. Hosseini had no regrets, and hoped that his treatment of the subject would spark an overdue dialogue among his fellow countrymen.

Following the success of his book, Hosseini returned to Afghanistan for the first time in 27 years. He was shocked by the devastation that years of war had wrought on the city he knew as a child, but moved to find the traditional spirit of hospitality and generosity was unchanged. Everywhere, he heard stories of the tragedies his countrymen had suffered.

Hosseini continued to practice medicine for a year and a half after his book was published, but the demands on his time eventually compelled him to take a leave of absence. In 2006, he agreed to serve as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, assisting displaced persons in war zones around the world. In this capacity he has traveled to eastern Chad to meet with refugees from Darfur and returned to Afghanistan to meet with refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan.

Since his 2003 visit to Afghanistan, Hosseini had been at work on a second novel, focusing on the experience of women in pre-war Afghanistan, during the Soviet occupation and the civil war, and under the Taliban dictatorship. His new book, eagerly awaited by an army of readers, was published in 2007. A Thousand Splendid Suns takes its title from a poem by the 17th century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. The story follows two women, Mariam and Laila, both married to the same abusive man. Like its predecessor, A Thousand Splendid Suns became a massive international bestseller, topping the bestseller lists as soon as it was published. The paperback edition spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list.

Later that year, The Kite Runner became a highly acclaimed motion picture, photographed in Kashgar province in the far west of China. Although the producers of the film were American, they chose to shoot the film in the Dari language to preserve the authenticity of the story. A controversy erupted in Afghanistan because a sexual assault against a young boy is depicted in the film. The child actor and his family were threatened with violence by traditionalists who believed this portrayal to be shameful. Release of the film was postponed while the boy and his family were relocated.

For the time being, Dr. Hosseini has given up his medical practice to write and continue his work for the United Nations. He and his wife Roya and their two children make their home in Northern California.


The theme or topic discussed in this particular paper is Love as a means for overcoming all odds however insurmountable they may seem in order to reach out to another fellow human being. We shall view this with regard to how the author portrays this with the help of the characters in his story. Mariam is the remarkably resilient woman whose heart and spirit are worthy to be emulated. Her transition from being exceptionally cold and suspicious towards Laila, to the motherly affection and care that she showers on Laila is very important to note.

Furthermore the manner in which she guides and teaches Laila the many things she is require to know of being a wife, shows her sympathy and to that girl; who was thrust into a rigid world that she was unsure of (as was Mariam when she was sent to marry Rasheed). The very fact that she went to the extent of teaching Laila all this and taking care of Laila’s children is suggestive that, Mariam had realised how difficult it had been for her initially when she had first been put in this situation. Taking lessons from her experience, Mariam saw the importance of helping Laila in making the transition from a carefree girl to a woman with responsibilities, so as to facilitate a more smooth transition (a smoother one than she had: why allow some one to repeat the same mistakes you made?)

Though she was the victim of constant jibes and verbal abuse from Rasheed herself, she never allowed this bring her to her knees, always focusing on the children and their mother, Laila. She was beaten, flogged with belts, punched and subjected to heinous physical abuse, but she never let this distract her from the responsibility she had given herself of protecting Laila and the children from the wrath of Rasheed. An explanation or an understanding of why she acted in such a manner maybe found in the following extract: ‘Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with startling heroism.’


As we have seen, the power of love cannot be underestimated as it moves people to do the most unbelievable things and go through great amounts of sacrifice for the sake of another. A similar concept has been depicted in the book Love in a torn land by Jean P Sasson, (a renowned author regarding the subject of the Middle- Eastern countries, such as Iraq, Iran. Some of her well known books include Princess, Mayada, Rape of Kuwait), where she depicts the love of a newly married couple as they escape from Kurdistan (the area prosecuted by Sadam Hussain and his uncle “Chemical Ali” as it primarily comprised of Shi’ite Muslims-who were disliked by Sadam)

She follows how the couple protects each other as they make their way from Kurdistan to the neighbouring state of Palestine. The theme is one that is universal. We all at some points in our lives have been moved to doing things for the sake of simply because we feel something towards them. That something can be nothing other than love. It is a phenomenon which is simply unique to the human nature. Something that has bound one man to another for centuries. It is what has kept us from annihilating each other whenever we are faced with conflict; and it is love. Today, in an age where the word love is used so loosely, I think it is important to view these stories as an example, of the true power and meaning of the word love.

In the context of the book by Jean P Sasson, there is a scene where, there is a massive air raid and the wife was unable to reach the safety of a shelter as she was in the process of having a bath. The husband was away performing some duties regarding the Kurdish resistance. But on seeing the explosion, with utter disregard to his safety he runs back to that house in order to pull her out of the rubble. Such is the power of love.

Just like in the book A thousand splendid suns, where Mariam acts more as a mother to Laila than as anything else (jealous wife or something of the like), in this book to there are numerous instances of undying love and devotion that ends up rewarding the newly married couple by allowing them to reach safety. Another book with similar circumstances (turmoil and chaos and human suffering), A Morning Gift shows how one professor, helps smuggle a Jewish Girl out of German Occupied Austria when she gets left behind, despite all the risks of being arrested himself by the Germans. He helps her come to England and offers much assistance even after that. Love cannot and should not be underestimated. And that is the message which these books like many others seeks to deliver. And therefore the answer to my research paper question is an emphatic YES!


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