A central theme of Hosseini’s novel is the question of Afghan identity. In the stories Jalil shares with his daughter at the beginning of the novel, there is a sense of Afghan’s place in the ancient Persian Empire and its sharing in the rich heritage of Persian poetry, art, and literature. When Laila visits the valley of Bamiyan with her father, there is a sense of the long history of Afghanistan as a nexus point on the Silk Road and the site of much invasion and conflict over the centuries. The giant stone Buddhas are a part of this history and thus of Afghanistan’s identity. However, the conservative Taliban see Afghan’s identity as a fundamentalist Islamic state. They ban all forms of artistic expression and destroy examples of pre-Islamic poetry, art, literature, and history. They pass laws that are intended to return modern Afghanistan to the traditional values of tribal society—laws that which keep women subjugated to men and control the way people dress, think, and act to conform with Islamic law. Hosseini shows how the Taliban’s concept of Afghan identity is a gross distortion that limits people’s freedoms in the name of Islam.
The Kite Runner was about men in Afghanistan; A Thousand Splendid Suns is about women in Afghanistan. Through the stories of its female protagonists, Laila and Mariam, Hosseini exposes the suffering of women in Afghanistan under fundamentalist Islamic governments such as the Mujahideen and the Taliban. Hosseini shows how traditions such as the use of the burqa, while ostensibly intended to protect women, can be used to control and oppress women instead. He also emphasizes, through the words of strong female characters such as Laila’s teacher Khala Rangmaal and sympathetic male characters such as Hakim, Mullah Faizullah, and Zaman, the importance of women’s education to Afghanistan’s future.
In a December 12, 2008 interview with the London Times, Hosseini explained why he made women’s rights a central theme of his novel: “I don’t want to sound self-important, but this is a vital issue for the future of Afghanistan. If we eliminate half the population from the process of rebuilding the country, it doesn’t stand a chance. Women were traditionally the backbone of the education system. Now we have a country where 80 per cent of women are illiterate.”
The Senselessness of War
The novel shows the senselessness of war, particularly as the Mujahideen battle each other for control of Kabul. The warlords’ ethnic divisions are meaningless and petty, according to Hakim, and they are willing to utterly destroy the city in their attempt to win it for one faction or another.
Sisterhood and Family
In his 2008 London Times interview about A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini said: “It’s about one woman who has lost her family and another who never really had one to begin with. They make their own family.” The importance of family, and particularly female bonds, in helping people overcome even the toughest of times, is a major theme of the novel. Mariam’s newfound family, Laila and Aziza, provides Mariam with the love that makes her life worthwhile.
Poetic justice occurs in the novel as characters get what they deserve in a way that befits their characters. Rasheed lies that Tariq is dead, and then he is in turn lied to that Aziza is his child. Later, Rasheed, a violent man, intends to kill Laila, but he suffers a violent death himself, killed by Mariam. Another example is Jalil; he rejects Mariam, leaving her to wait outside his house all night long; years later, when he seeks forgiveness from his daughter, she makes him wait outside, never again accepting him back into her life.
Hope and Disappointment
The cycle of hope and disappointment is repeated many times over the course of the novel. Each time the characters feel hope for the future, that hope is dashed. However, hope continues to rise again.