A Thousand Splendid Suns Under One Sky?

Good writers like Khaled Hosseini always explain the motivations of the antagonists in the story. No one is purely evil or purely good and the antagonists actions are always postulated with a bit of back history. Rasheed the main antagonist in A Thousand Splendid Suns, is violent and cruel but we come to understand his actions through the death of his son and the frustration of being unable to father another son as he grows old.

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye.
Through the bazaar, caravans of Egypt pass.
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”

The title of Khaled Hosseini’s book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem ‘Kabul’ by the 17th century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi.

The startling brutality and oppression of the Taliban Afghanistan, especially against women, can be regarded as another antagonist of the book, which can also be said of Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. But Hosseini has the ability to portray this time in Afghanistan history with a depth of understanding and warmth for his home country and it’s people.

As a strong independent woman the concept of life hidden under a Burqa in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime seems completely unreal and intolerable. This is also true for the two protagonist’s of Hosseni’s novel, Mariam and Laila, two strong women who live in a society of few choices but through each other find strength and courage to change their lives. Under the Taliban regime they are not allowed to work and are forced to stay with a violent husband (Rasheed). When Rasheed loses his job Laila has no choice but to put her young daughter into an orphange, a common act for widows who are not allowed to work even when their children are starving! Laila is beaten daily as she has the audacity to walk outside without a man as she attempts, often in vain, to visit her daughter at the orphanage. After a lifetime of decisions taken away from her, Mariam chooses to sacrifice her life for her friend Laila and her children.

I will never forget sitting outside a cafe in Egypt next door to an open slaughter-house. I was travelling with a few of the guys I had been working with on the dive boat, The Sun Boat, taking tourists on diving holidays along the Red Sea. I looked up and noticed a young woman staring at me under a loose black gown, called a niqab, that only showed her eyes. It suddenly dawned on me how few women I had actually seen on my short travels so far in Egypt. What I remember most is the way she looked at me. Her eyes held no malice just a sense of awe and incomprehension as she looked at me. What must I have looked like to her; a Western woman uncovered, free to make my own choices in life, a life she understood that would always be out of her reach.

As I sat alone at the back of the Sun Boat watching the sun set on the Red Sea as it sailed away from the port of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, I had learnt that the world is more open than we think it is, and that sometimes the only bars around us are the ones we create for ourselves.


10 thoughts on “A Thousand Splendid Suns Under One Sky?

  1. Great piece. Would love to hear more on this subject and the book. 😉

  2. Thank you James, I think that a back story of the motivations behind your antagonists actions is very important to give your characters and ultimately your story realistic depth! I highly recommend both Khaled Hosseini’s novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  3. Collin Wood says:

    Great blog Amanda and what a moment you must have had watching that sun set 🙂

  4. Thank you Collin, did you know that the Red Sea is so named because when the sun sets over the red mountains famous along the Red Sea, it turns the sea a shade of red 😉

  5. Hi Amanda, definitely. After all the antagonist is the other half of the story, their motivation is just as important as the protagonists. People aren’t born evil and I feel that the reader needs to know what has driven that person to do the things they do. I don’t tell their story so that the reader feels sorry for them, I tell it so they know exactly where, why and how they became the person they are. After all, evil or not once you reach a certain stage in life when you know right from wrong then the choices you make are usually your own. There are a whole raft of reasons for children to become dehumanised ( let’s face it it’s where it starts ) and constant reaffirmations of hate, lust, abuse in all it’s forms imprint on young minds. As you say nobody is purely evil or good. There are times when I find the antagonist quite intriguing. Listen to actors, they often say that they had a better time playing the bad guy, because it gave them a wider scope of feeling and emotions. Bring on the antagonist in whatever form, because you don’t have a story without it.

  6. Hi, Amanda

    There’s another point to consider: When you let your creative process totally open, as I do, many times the antagonist may undergo such a transformation – a catharsis sometimes – that she/he becomes a character much stronger than the protagonist him/herself. At least in two of my most successful novels, the initial antagonist arrives to the end of plot as the main protagonist. That’s why I agree that we must invest in all the antagonist background, story, feelings, relationships and motivations. You never know the tricks your unconscious will use along the development of your story.

    • Hi Milton, sorry only just seen your comment! Do you find that when you delve into the antagonist background you have to reach into a darker part of yourself? A lot of writers talk about this dark place. I think we are maybe more in touch with the darker place in all of us, so we can write those interesting antagonist plot lines. I really like the idea of the antagonist becoming the protagonist of a story.

  7. An interesting perspective. The divide between you and woman standing straight across from you is an interesting concept, where distance is not a barrier, but culture is nearly insurmountable. Even better, that a writer’s work made the moment of empathy possible, allowing you to bridge the divide and see yourself from her perspective. It show the strange power words can have. Nice post.

  8. Thank you Connor, travelling has been a huge influence and inspiration to me as a person and for my writing!

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