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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini



A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women whose lives were brought together by a series of unfortunate events. Set amongst the turbulent events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, Mariam and Laila were initially just acquaintances, then adversaries and, when they realized they would need each other to survive, they formed an unbreakable bond.

 

 A thousand splendid suns book cover A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women whose lives were brought together by a series of unfortunate events. Mariam was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, who arranges a marriage between Mariam and a shoemaker in Kabul.  Laila grew up in Kabul spending her younger days with a boy named Tariq, for whom she begins to have deeper feelings.  Set amongst the turbulent events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, Mariam and Laila were initially just acquaintances, then adversaries and, when they realized they would need each other to survive, they formed an unbreakable bond.

Book Club Ideas

Decorations

Food and decorations can be spread on a sofrah on the floor. A sofrah is a large cloth or “eating blanket” that food is served on.   This picture is from Annie’s book club ideas for The Kite Runner.  Click here for more of her ideas.

Music

As Kabul is being rebuilt, music can be heard in the streets again – rubab and tabla, dootar, harmonium and tamboura, old Ahmad Zahir songs (page 363).


Book Club Menu

At a party thrown by Laila’s parents to celebrate the surrender of Najibullah, President of Afghanistan when the Mujahideen took over Kabul,  Skewers of Lamb were made over a sizzling makeshift grill (page 149).

Mushroom meat Kabobs

Mariam and Laila bonded over chai and halwa.  Laila looked closely at Mariam and “for the first time, it was not an adversary’s face Laila saw but a face of grievances unspoken, burdens gone unprotested, a destiny submitted to and endured.” (pg 223)

In Afghanistan, tea is often served in small glasses on a silver tray.  This Chai Recipe is spiced with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.  Halwa is similar in flavor and texture to a sweet polenta.  This recipe is flavored with cardamom and, as Laila said, it is awfully good with chai.

Afghanistan food

 

Other food items that were mentioned in A Thousand Splendid Suns includes

  • Rice with different topping: shalqam stew with turnip, spinach sabzi, cauliflower with ginger (page 15)
  • Dishlemeh candy (page 15)
  • Lamb kebab and aush soup (page 37)
  • Daal with fluffy white rice (page 62)
  • Ice cream with crushed-pistachio topping and tiny rice noodles at the bottom (page 66)
  • Borani and aushak (page 80)
  • Shorwa (page 116)
  • Boiled beans topped with a thick cilantro chutney (page 140)
  • Aush soup with kidney bean and dried dill, kofta, steaming hot mantu drenched with fresh yogurt and topped with mint (page 145)
  • Carafes of dogh (page 149)
  • Bowls of qurma, platters of mastawa and loaves of bread (page 150)

Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 4.27 stars (260,793 ratings)
Amazon: 4.6 stars (1758 ratings)
LibraryThing: 4.29 stars (591 ratings)
My Rating:  4.5 stars.  Although there is a thread of hope in this novel, it isn’t a feel good book and I was left heavy-hearted for some time afterward.  The writing and storyline quickly drew me in and I enjoyed learning about Afghanistan and particularly the plight of women.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe the relationship between Laila and Mariam in the beginning?  How did it evolve?
  2. This book is about the lives of women.  Do you think Khaled Hosseini did a good job portraying the thoughts of the women?  Do you think a woman author would have had more insight?
  3. If you read The Kite Runner, compare and contrast it with A Thousand Splendid Suns.  If you have not read it, did reading A Thousand Splendid Suns motivate you to pick up the book?
  4. How does the relationships of Laila and Mariam with their respective parents shape who they are later in the novel?
  5. Did you learn something new about Afghanistan and the way women are treated while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns?  Did anything particularly surprise you?

Below are some questions from KhaledHosseini.com.  Visit his website for more discussion questions for A Thousand Splendid Suns (some may contain spoilers).

1. The phrase “a thousand splendid suns,” from the poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi, is quoted twice in the novel – once as Laila’s family prepares to leave Kabul, and again when she decides to return there from Pakistan. It is also echoed in one of the final lines: “Miriam is in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.” Discuss the thematic significance of this phrase.

2. At several points in the story, Mariam and Laila pass themselves off as mother and daughter. What is the symbolic importance of this subterfuge? In what ways is Mariam’s and Laila’s relationship with each other formed by their relationships with their own mothers?

3. One of the Taliban judges at Mariam’s trial tells her, “God has made us different, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can. Western doctors and their science have proven this.” What is the irony in this statement? How is irony employed throughout the novel?

4. The driver who takes Babi, Laila, and Tariq to the giant stone Buddhas above the Bamiyan Valley describes the crumbling fortress of Shahr-e-Zohak as “the story of our country, one invader after another… we’re like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing.” Discuss the metaphorical import of this passage as it relates to Miriam and Laila. In what ways does their story reflect the larger story of Afghanistan’s troubled history?

5. Among other things, the Taliban forbid “writing books, watching films, and painting pictures.” Yet despite this edict, the film Titanic becomes a sensation on the black market. Why would people risk the Taliban’s violent reprisals for a taste of popcorn entertainment? What do the Taliban’s restrictions on such material say about the power of artistic expression and the threat it poses to repressive political regimes?

6. While the first three parts of the novel are written in the past tense, the final part is written in present tense. What do you think was the author’s intent in making this shift? How does it change the effect of this final section?

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The Author

author of a thousand splendid suns Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris and in 1980, Hosseini’s family moved to San Jose, California.  Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004. While in medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Khaled has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.  He lives in northern California.

Awards for A Thousand Splendid Suns

Amazon’s #1 book of the year, 2007
Nominated for ALA’s Best Book for Young Readers Award, 2008
Book Sense Picks Highlights, 2007
#1 Worldwide Bestselling title in 2008
Washington Post
, best books of 2007
San Francisco Chronicle, Notables of 2007
Miami Herald
People Magazine,
Top Ten Books
Time, Ten Best Books: Fiction
BN.com, Top Ten
Hudson News, Best Books of the Year
Booklist Editor’s Choice 2007

Other Works by Author

Click here to see book club party ideas for The Kite Runner

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for A Thousand Splendid Suns? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.


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