Few books left a mark in me as much as A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I remember having just got into college – I wasn’t even 18 years old yet – when one of my teachers selected this book to my group as an obligatory read that later we’d have to present to the whole classroom.
But soon, that reading went from obligatory to something I wanted to get to the end. I suffered alongside the characters, I followed every moment of their complicated lives to get to the last pages holding my tears – something that very few books can do to me.
For our Children Protection Week here at Lune Station, I decided to brush the dust of my book and follow this story again – a world in which two girls, treated as women, see their destinies crossed by absurd changes in their lives, that they can’t control.
And, even among desolation and pain, they can still find hope.
You can come with me on my train wagon, because today you’ll go with Artemis to the lands of Afghanistan – a place so rich and beautiful, desolated by war during so many years.
Who is Khaled Hosseini?
You must have already heard the name of this author for another work, that was a huge success and even became a movie: The Kite Runner. Yes, Hosseini wrote both books – the one I just mentioned and the one I’m talking about on this post.
But who is he?
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in March 4th, 1965. Son of a diplomat and a teacher, his family was relocated to Paris in 1976 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When preparing to go back to Afghanistan in 1980, though, the country suffered a political coup and his family sought asylum on United States, in San Jose, California.
In 1993, he got his medic graduation on University of California, starting to write his first book – The Kite Runner – in 2001, while practicing medicine.
Between other books, he was named, in 2006, Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). During one of his trips to Afghanistan by UNHCR, he founded the Khaled Hosseini Foundation – a non-profit organization that has the goal to provide humanitarian help to the people of Afghanistan.
The situation on the country affects mostly women, children and refugees – that being the main focus of Khaled Hosseini’s foundation. Wanting to help them rebuild their own country, the foundation seeks to provide support in guaranteeing their most basic rights.
In case you’re interested, I’ll leave the website here! It’s very interesting and it’s worth your while to get to know their work: The Khaled Hosseini Foundation Site.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Two Women Amidst Afghanistan History
The book is divided in many parts, telling the stories of the main characters at first separated and then, together.
In one side, we have Mariam, a harami – that means, a bastard daughter, outside a marriage, that wasn’t recognized as legitimate by her own father. Mariam and her mother live as social outcasts in a kolba – an extremely rustic sort of house – far away from the city of Herat, where her father lives.
Since she was a little girl, Mariam suffers abuses from her mother – who, in spite of loving her, treats her daughter in a hostile manner because of what happened in their lives – which makes the girl believe her father is infinitely good hearted and would welcome her with his other children and wives.
Without the opportunity to study, Mariam only has the support of an old mullah, who teaches her about their religion. When she reaches 15 years old, though, a tragedy falls on her life, making her live on her father’s mansion with his other three wives.
To live with an illegitimate daughter, though, is a shame. Therefore, Mariam is given in marriage to Rashid – a man around 40, 45 years old, shoemaker from Kabul. Moving to another city, she’s just a frightened girl, needing to learn to be a good wife.
“- (…) But I’ve seen nine year old girls given in marriage to men twenty years older than your suitor, Mariam. All of us have seen that. How old are you, fifteen? It’s a great age for a girl to get married.
The other wives nodded enthusiastically. One detail did not escape Mariam: no one mentioned her half-sisters, Saideh and Nahid, both the same age as her, both studying on Mehri School, in Herat, both planning to get into the University of Kabul. It was obvious that 15 years old was not a great age for THEM to get married.”– Quote from the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, translated from Portuguese and underlined by Artemis
However, because of many happenings of life completely out of Mariam’s control, Rashid resents her – starting a cycle of abuse.
On another side, we have Laila, a beautiful girl – Mariam’s neighbour in Kabul – and very intelligent. Daughter of a teacher, she learnt since she was little that she could do whatever she wanted with her destiny – marriage wasn’t obligatory, but a good education was.
The girl also lives many situations with her friends Giti and Hasina, but her greatest friendship is with her neighbour Tariq. Spending hours playing with him, Tariq is the person with whom she can really count on and waits anxiously to see him every day.
“(…) “Marriage can wait; education can’t. You are such an intelligent girl. You are, really. You can be whatever you want, Laila. I know that. I also know that, when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, perhaps even more. Because a society has no chance of success if their women aren’t educated, Laila. No chance.” “– Quote from the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, translated from Portuguese and underlined by Artemis
Among the situations of the book, Afghanistan goes through two crucial points: the communist coup – that established a totalitarian regime but, as the girl’s father says, it’s probably the best moment to be a woman in the country – and the rise of Taliban right after – wanting to throw down the communist regime that devastated the country with war, establishing a regime based on a totalitarian and extremist version of the Shari’a – the islamic law.
Again, because of happenings outside her control, when she reaches 14 years old, Laila sees herself thrown on a completely different life that she had imagined and planned, ending up married to Rashid as his second wife – the only way she had to survive in an uncertain world.
“After four years of marriage, though, Mariam clearly understood everything a woman has to endure when she is frightened.”– Quote from the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, translated from Portuguese by Artemis
And, like that, the story of an unlikely friendship that begins between Mariam and Laila start: the first one, already older and with the life philosophy that she must endure the pains life inflicts on her, while the second one, younger, still remains with what’s left of hope and rebellion agains the system established by a society in which being born a woman strips you from the most basic rights.
“- The other night, when he… No one had ever stood up for me before. – she said.
– I couldn’t allow it – said Laila. – On my house, no one did things like that.
– This is your house, now. You better get used to it.
– Not to that. Never.”– Quote from the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, translated from Portuguese by Artemis
Main Children Protection Points
On the book, we have two main points of violation of rights: child marriage and domestic violence – if we don’t take into account the horrors that happen during war, like dismemberments by landmines, people with refugee status, scarcity of food and extreme hunger, lack of education, among others.
Regarding child marriage, Mariam and Laila get married too young – when 15 and 14 years old, respectively. It’s a decision that girls on the eighth grade/high school shouldn’t have to make – on this period of their lives, they should only mind about their studies and own formation, to think about creating their own family by their own free choice in the future.
“Babi was reffering to those regions where men who live according to ancient tribal laws rebelled against the communists and their measures to free women, abolish forced marriage, raise to 16 years old the minimal age for girls to get married. According to babi, those individuals consider it an insult to their centenarians traditions the government – and, on top of that, an atheist government – determine that their daughters should leave the house, go to school, work side by side with men.”– Quote from the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, translated from Portuguese and underlined by Artemis
On the book, both girls basically have no choice: Mariam is forced to get married, while Laila could try her own luck alone amidst war, hunger and women’s rights increasingly scarce. For both of them, marriage is a way out to survive.
Regarding domestic violence, it can be observed from the third part of the book. During marriage with Rashid, having a family with two wives and children, both women suffer with many physical and psychological abuses that, for more than once, puts their lives – and their children, specially the little girl’s life – in danger.
Seen only as a property, the women suffer with opression, without a way to manifest – seeing as the only way out to unite their strength in order to fight both a totalitarian government and an abusive husband, guaranteeing their own lives and their children’s, still so young.
Child Marriage and Domestic Violence
It’s considered child marriage that one that occurs with people under 18 years old – being a violation of human rights. It’s a practice that still occurs around the whole world, and the Sustainable Development Goals – that you can find on Sisterhood of the Moon’s post about the UN on this link – seeks to end this practice by 2030.
“If efforts are not accelerated, more than 120 million girls will marry before their eighteenth birthday by 2030.”Source: UNICEF
Being a result of gender inequality, child marriage affects more girls than boys. According to UNICEF’s website, girls that marry before their 18th birthday have greater probability of suffering from domestic abuse and to stop studying. Another pain point is teenage pregnancy, which is a risk not only to the mother, but also the child.
Other statistics also show that those girls tend to distance from their families, friends and community, impacting their health and finantial lives – which ends up being inherited by their children.
Globally speaking, 21% of girls marry before they’re 18 years old, being around 12 million child marriages in one year. With all efforts to stop this practice, they were able to avoid, on the last decade, 25 million marriages.
On Brazil, according to an UN research on October 2019, the rate of girls that get married or start living with their partners before their 18th birthday is of 26% – if this number isn’t reversed until 2030, it’ll be one of the biggest rates in the world, behind only Sub-Saharan Africa.
Around here, UNICEF, ONU Mulheres and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) work to revert those numbers. Globally, UNICEF and UNFPA have united to launch the Global Programme to End Child Marriage. Until 2019, the program managed to impact more than 7.9 million girls – guaranteeing education, campaigns and dialogues with the population of the countries in which this problem is more urgent.
The NGO Girls Not Brides also has a really nice work to raise awareness and fight child marriage. I’ll leave the link of their website so you can get to know their work better: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/
On their section Take Action, the NGO lists many ways to help on this fight: by donating to projects, using your own voice – like we are doing – to raise awareness, sharing data on social media, supporting local campaigns and even using your own marriage as a help platform!
As mentioned, it’s common that in child marriages occurs domestic violence. On those cases, you can reach out to the authorities and police stations in your country – making sure to research if there are any groups that offer help to vulnerable women.
In any case of domestic violence – be it with you or another person – don’t omit yourself: report it.
It’s always important to use our voices in order to help change what we find wrong on our societies. Millions of children – and, mainly, girls – suffer with the consequences of child marriage and domestic violence. Not omiting on those situations, matters: the least the action you take, can, one day, save a life.
Children Protection Week on Lune Station
With this special week getting to its end, I’ll leave the link to Selene’s and Hekate posts below – also so important and filled with interesting content – so you can take a look!