A Thousand Splendid Suns
The title of the novel is taken from a line from a seventeenth-century poem called “Kabul,” written by the Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi and translated into English by Josephine Davis. The poem, which is about the city of Kabul, reads in part:
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.
Laila’s father, Hakim, quotes these lines as the family is about to leave the war-wracked city. Through the imagery of suns and moons, the lines evoke a feeling of timelessness and a connection to the mythology of ancient Persia, as well as a heavenly beauty that stands in poignant contrast with the rubble and blood of the city at war. The moons and suns may be interpreted as the citizens of Kabul, with the male head of each household represented by a shimmering moon on its roof. The reference to “a thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls” likely refers to the women of Kabul, glowing beauties cloistered in hearth and home, tantalizingly hidden from the outside world but nonetheless providing vital life-giving warmth to Afghan society. The powerful image of women as “splendid suns” ties in with Hosseini’s theme of women’s strength and importance to Afghan society.
The Old Man and the Sea
The classic tale by Hemingway is alluded to several times in the novel. It tells of an old fisherman who has an epic battle with a giant marlin, struggling for two days and nights to reel it onto his small fishing boat. However, just as he attempts to bring the prize fish to shore, it is torn apart by sharks. The fish in the story is a metaphor for the city of Kabul, the beautiful prize that is torn apart by those who seek to win it.
The Titanic appears as a metaphor for the city of Kabul under the Taliban—the city, like the ship, is headed for certain disaster. When the movie Titanic comes to Kabul in the summer of 2000, four years into the Taliban regime and three years into a terrible drought, it creates a sensation. Vendors sell Titanic carpets, Titanic cloth, Titanic deodorant, toothpaste, perfume, fried snacks, and even burqas. A persistent beggar calls himself “Titanic Beggar.” The city becomes a virtual “Titanic City.” People wonder what the attraction of the movie is. Some say it’s the song; some say it’s the sea, the luxury, or the ship; some say it’s the sex in the movie or the attractiveness of its star, Leonardo di Caprio. But Laila has a different idea. She believes that in this disastrous time, people are attracted to the idea that someone will save them, just as Jack saves Rose in the movie. However, she says, nobody will save them: “Jack is not coming back. Jack is dead.”
Although education for girls is forbidden under the Taliban law, Aziza is secretly taught at the orphanage. During one visit, she tells her mother and Mariam what she has learned about the earth’s tectonic plates: “And, on either side of the faults, there are these sheets of rock that make up the earth’s crust. … [T]he shifting of rocks is deep, deep below, and it’s powerful and scary down there, but all we feel on the surface is a slight tremor. Only a slight tremor.” Later, Laila realizes that this is a metaphor for how people and nations can become damaged in unseen ways. Things may look all right on the surface—indeed, Aziza looks relatively healthy and happy, and, despite the occasional tremors, it may seem to the outside world that Afghanistan is at peace under the Taliban. But deep down there are fractures and collisions that nobody can see, and at any moment, a catastrophic earthquake might result.
At the end of the novel, when Laila returns to Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban, she sees the citizens of Kabul rebuilding the city. They use the shells of old rockets as planters for their flowers. These “rocket flowers” represent hope for a new Afghanistan—something beautiful growing out of the chaos and destruction of war. Flowers appear elsewhere in the novel as symbols of hope, as when Mariam thinks of Laila and Aziza as “two new flowers [that] had unexpectedly sprouted in her life” (229).
A Thousand Splendid Suns