"No, Babi meant the tribal areas, especially the Pashtun regions in the south or in the east near the Pakistani border…There, men saw it as an insult to their centuries old tradition, Babi said, to be told by the government – and a godless one at that – that their daughters had to leave home, attend school, and work alongside men." 

In Chapter 18, Laila’s father explains to her that, despite the overall suffering that communist rule has brought to Kabul, their stance on education provides Afghani women with more opportunities and freedoms than their own cultural traditions previously had. This distinction opens Laila’s eyes to the possibilities that her own future could hold, and her father’s encouragement of her abilities reinforces the bold and resilient nature of her character. Acknowledging the ongoing resistance toward this more progressive worldview, however, emphasizes the cultural aspect of the war against the Soviets. This fight puts women squarely in the crossfire between oppressive traditions and the threat of foreign values, causing them to face even more forms of violence as a result. Especially for Western readers who may be less familiar with the details and impacts of the Soviet-Afghan War, this quotation plays a key role in illuminating the complex social dynamics at play as Laila, and the women of Afghanistan more broadly, struggle to find their place within an unpredictable world.   

As the novel goes on, this tension between traditionally restrictive customs and more progressive views of femininity becomes so extreme that Laila is unable to meaningfully engage with Afghan society. Although she is still enrolled in school at this point in the novel, the violence in Kabul ultimately becomes so great that, per her father’s request, she drops out. Restricting girls’ access to education works to maintain the imbalance of power between men and women as adults, and because of the helplessness that this dynamic creates, Laila finds herself agreeing to a marriage purely out of necessity. Laila’s relationship with Rasheed further exacerbates her sense of isolation as he becomes increasingly hostile and dismissive of her. The discord within their home ultimately becomes a microcosmic representation of Kabul’s tense cultural landscape during the war, revealing the very real implications of the conflict that Laila’s father attempts to explain to her as a young girl. 

“All day, this poem about Kabul has been bouncing around in my head. Saib-e-Tabrizi wrote it back in the seventeenth century, I think. I used to know the whole poem, but all I can remember now is two lines: ‘One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.’”

    This quotation, which appears in Chapter 26, is the first of three references that the characters make to the novel’s title. As Laila’s family prepares to flee Kabul and seek safety in Pakistan, her father reflects on two lines of poetry that describe their home as a place of endless beauty. This line pains Laila and her father in the moment as they lament the fact that they must leave such a meaningful place behind, but in its later iterations, the image of a “thousand splendid suns” appears in more uplifting moments. Regardless of the context, the novel’s title emphasizes the idea that Kabul, and Afghanistan more generally, is still full of brightness and life despite the violence of the war. By repeatedly alluding to this line of poetry, Hosseini suggests that nothing can truly destroy the spirit of Kabul. The city’s vibrant culture may be hidden by acts of brutality and destruction, but as the end of the novel suggests, its light will reemerge. The fact that the poem is from the seventeenth century further reinforces Kabul’s ability to endure as Saib-e-Tabrizi’s lines have not lost their poignancy over time. 

The sun imagery also applies to Hosseini’s characters, emphasizing the notion that they have or will have bright moments in their own lives regardless of their surroundings. At this point in the novel, for example, Laila’s relationship with her father is a “splendid sun” that brings her peace among all the chaos of life in war-torn Kabul. Mariam will eventually become another sun in Laila’s life, and as the end of the novel suggests, she will spend the rest of her life honoring her friend’s selfless and loving legacy. The final layer of meaning in these lines extends beyond the world of the novel and symbolizes the way in which Hosseini, through writing A Thousand Splendid Suns, invites the reader to see the Afghanistan in a way that many news headlines fail to capture. Especially for Western readers who may be less familiar with Afghani history and culture, Hosseini uses this sun imagery in order to craft a more nuanced and humanizing narrative of the war.

"'The other night, when he…Nobody's ever stood up for me before,’ she said. Laila examined Mariam's drooping cheeks, the eyelids that sagged in tired folds, the deep lines that framed her mouth—she saw these things as though she too were looking at someone for the first time. 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."

This quotation appears in Chapter 34 and serves as a response to Laila’s attempts to prevent Rasheed from beating Mariam, an event which occurs in Chapter 33. Rasheed convinces himself that Mariam is teaching Laila to refuse his advances, and rather than sitting idly by, Laila jumps on her husband and exclaims that he cannot treat either of them in such a brutal manner. Despite the sense of competition that exists between them, Mariam thanks Laila for risking her own safety to help her, and this moment serves as a key turning point in their relationship. The boldness that Laila displays in challenging Rasheed signifies to Mariam that her prior attempts to express her gratitude were genuine. Similarly, the vulnerability that Mariam shows in this quotation helps Laila realize just how much suffering Rasheed put his first wife through, and this shift in her perspective evokes sympathy rather than fear or anger. Although each woman’s past experiences and current struggles are unique, Mariam and Laila ultimately bond over the abuse they must endure, both as Rasheed’s wives and as Afghani women living through war. This tender moment allows them to overcome the sense of isolation they have both felt and accept the idea that they, too, are deserving of compassion and companionship. Mariam and Laila will ultimately spend the rest of the novel uplifting one another, a move which reflects the importance of women’s friendship. Especially in their unforgiving, turbulent world, Mariam and Laila’s relationship becomes a beacon of hope which allows them to move through life with purpose. Understanding the origin of this dynamic works to deepen the significance of female friendship as one of the novel’s key themes as it gives women the power to challenge the oppression they face. 

"Later, after Rasheed had dropped them off and taken a bus to work, Laila watched Aziza wave goodbye and scuff along the wall in the orphanage back lot. She thought of Aziza's stutter, and of what Aziza had said earlier about fractures and powerful collisions deep down and how sometimes all we see on the surface is a slight tremor."

At the end of Chapter 42, Laila reflects on the ways in which both she and her daughter are in the midst of a metaphorical earthquake that, while barely showing on the surface, has serious internal implications. This image of “powerful collisions” alludes to an earlier moment in the chapter in which Aziza, whom Laila surrendered to an orphanage at Rasheed’s behest, recites to her family the scientific facts she is learning through her lessons with Zaman, the orphanage director. Although Aziza discusses her lessons in a completely innocent manner, both the content she describes and the way she delivers it indicates just how much she is struggling while being separated from her family. By using Aziza’s character to introduce the earthquake metaphor, Hosseini is able to emphasize the idea that war, or instability more generally, can take a significant toll on even the most helpless individuals. Aziza has very little stake in the fighting, yet she still suffers as a result of the chaos around her. This distress, however, merely manifests itself in her as a stutter, or “a slight tremor.” Laila views this slight change in her daughter’s behavior as a sign of something much more serious.

This quotation is particularly significant for the way in which it extends beyond Aziza’s particular circumstances and serves as a reflection on the impact of war more broadly. Each of the novel’s primary characters find themselves enduring abuse and neglect without fully acknowledging how their suffering is truly affecting them. Mariam and Laila, for example, only express “slight tremors” of dissatisfaction when living under Rasheed’s control when, in reality, the isolation they each feel eats away at their own sense of identity. Through this metaphor, Hosseini invites the reader to consider the discrepancy between what is visible and what is not. Especially in a real-world context, he suggests that acknowledging this difference is the key to fully grasping the severity of the wars in Afghanistan.

"And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Mariam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings." 

In the moments before her death at the end of Chapter 47, Mariam reflects on her life and marvels at how she changed from a helpless, unwanted girl into a strong and selfless woman. She accepts this transformation and takes pride in the fact that, in the end, she lived a life of purpose. What ultimately brought meaning to her life, however, was not her final act of defiance against Rasheed but rather the loving relationships she formed with Laila and her children. Knowing that someone accepted her for who she truly was and valued her presence is enough to bring Mariam peace in her final moments. This realization emphasizes the importance of fulfilling the basic human need for belonging and serves as the culmination of Mariam’s character development. Through her journey, Hosseini seems to suggest that feeling a sense of acceptance among others is particularly empowering, and this need must be met before any personal growth can truly occur. Mariam never feels truly wanted by her mother in Herat or by Rasheed in Kabul, and as a result, she closes herself off from the world by suppressing her own desires. Even when Laila first enters her life, she resists reaching out to her because prior experience indicated to her that she was unworthy of companionship. Over time, however, Mariam allows herself to bond with Laila over their shared suffering and discovers that their friendship provides her with a much-needed sense of belonging. This shift makes it possible for Mariam to grow into the fierce and selfless woman who ultimately sacrifices her life in order to protect the people she loves. By summarizing this journey at the end of Mariam’s life, Hosseini celebrates the power of love in the face of adversity.