A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Nana Character Analysis

Mariam’s mother, once a maid in Jalil’s household until she became pregnant with his child. Banished to the kolba (a hut on a hill) after her father disowned her, Nana is bitter and unhappy. She constantly complains about Jalil to Mariam and admonishes her not to trust any man. Though she can be at times a stifling presence for Mariam, Nana adores her and won’t even let her attend school so as to keep her close. Nana’s suicide, after Mariam has gone in search of Jalil, will make Mariam feel guilty and ashamed for the rest of her life, and harbor regrets about the way she dismissed Nana’s warnings.

Nana Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns

The A Thousand Splendid Suns quotes below are all either spoken by Nana or refer to Nana. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and Memory in Afghanistan Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Riverhead Books edition of A Thousand Splendid Suns published in 2007.
Part I: Chapter 1 Quotes

She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing: that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.

Related Characters: Mariam, Nana
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The first time Mariam hears the word "harami" is when she breaks a piece of Nana's beloved tea set—it is a way for Nana express her anger and condemn Mariam. As a five-year-old, Mariam could not grasp the full implications of the word, which means "bastard." But here Mariam claims that she understood the implications of the word even as a small child. "Harami," as a term of shame and judgment, carries with it a label that stigmatizes the person as unloved and unwanted. This is something that Mariam grasps almost immediately and deeply fears: it is why she will cling so closely to Jalil, who seems to offer a way to escape from such isolation. Nana's use of the word also underlines just how much even she, as someone who suffers from the rigid social structures in place, has internalized these structures herself, such that she has almost come to believe what they imply for her and her daughter.

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Part I: Chapter 3 Quotes

“It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Nana (speaker), Mariam
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam has told Nana that she would appreciate the chance to go to school, like Jalil's other children. But Nana is skeptical that this is a possibility, and besides, she doesn't think that Mariam needs the kinds of skills she would learn in school. Instead, Nana tells Mariam, she only needs to learn how to "endure." This advice is not only for Mariam: in using the first-person plural of "us" and "we," Nana lumps herself in this category as well.

"Women like us," according to Nana, are women who have been abandoned by society and are condemned to live at its fringes. Importantly, Nana does not include all marginalized people in this group, but only the women: as the group structurally prevented from attaining the same opportunities as men, women are doubly affected when they are also poor and exist outside of traditional family structures. Nana has a deterministic view of this society; that is, she does not seem to believe that any aspect of society itself can be changed. Instead, she and Mariam can only learn how to live based on what is permitted to them. They are condemned to suffer, but their "success" will depend on how well they react to this suffering—how well they persevere.

Part III: Chapter 27 Quotes

The girl was looking back as if waiting for Mariam to pass on some morsel of wisdom, to say something encouraging. But what wisdom did Mariam have to offer? What encouragement? Mariam remembered the day they’d buried Nana and how little comfort she had found when Mullah Faizullah had quoted the Koran for her.

Related Characters: Mariam, Laila, Nana, Mullah Faizullah
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

During her recovery, Laila has had time to ruminate on her own place in the tragedy that has befallen her family, and to ask herself what, if any, responsibility she might have in it. She settles on the fact that if she hadn’t insisted on completing an errand that her father wanted to do, she would have died rather than Babi. For her part, Mariam is quite familiar with such feelings of guilt and responsibility: she too has experienced the painful process of grief mixed up with shame after the death of a family member.

But Mariam’s own experiences do not seem to have made her any wiser, at least from her own perspective. Mariam recognizes that there is little she can say that will make Laila feel better—something she understands having realized how little others, even those she respected and admired like Mullah Faizullah, could comfort her in her own grief. That Mariam does not try to soothe Laila thus stems not from coldness or hardness but from a shared experience and understanding.

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Nana Character Timeline in A Thousand Splendid Suns

The timeline below shows where the character Nana appears in A Thousand Splendid Suns. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I: Chapter 1
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
...comes to visit her at the small one-room house where she lives with her mother, Nana. She accidentally breaks a piece of Nana’s treasured tea set, and Nana calls her a... (full context)
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...has three wives and nine legitimate children. He owns a cinema and is very wealthy. Nana was one of his housekeepers, but then became pregnant with Mariam. Her own father disowned... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 2
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Nana explains to Mariam that she refused to live in Herat, where the neighbors would whisper... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Nana had been engaged once before, to a parakeet seller, but a week before the wedding,... (full context)
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Nana says that when she gave birth to Mariam, in spring 1959, Jalil hadn’t bothered to... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 3
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...push a wheelbarrow filled with food and cooking supplies up the hill to the kolba. Nana always greets them with her arms crossed and a defiant posture, cursing their mothers and... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Nana teaches Mariam to cook and sew. She only admits a few visitors: the village leader... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...to school—Bibi jo had mentioned that Jalil’s other daughters would be attending. Mullah Faizullah asks Nana, but she says there’s no use. The only skill a girl like Mariam needs, she... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 4
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...Each week she awaits him anxiously, though she tries not to seem to excited for Nana’s sake. Nevertheless, Nana always is calmer and more polite in Jalil’s presence, washing her hair,... (full context)
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Jalil gives Mariam a leaf-shaped pendant. Mariam loves it, but Nana scoffs that it’s just nomad jewelry made from coins people throw at them. (full context)
Part I: Chapter 5
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...childless toymaker who carves a puppet that comes to life and has lots of adventures. Nana says it’s not a good idea, and Jalil agrees, saying that, in fact, the film’s... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Nana is furious when she hears, and mocks Mariam for thinking she’s wanted in Jalil’s house.... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...out of disillusionment, anger, and mainly shame at how much she idealized Jalil and dismissed Nana, who had been right all along. She wonders how she’ll be able to apologize. The... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 6
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
After Nana’s funeral, Jalil brings Mariam back to the kolba to gather her things. Mullah Faizullah arrives... (full context)
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
...day, Mullah Faizullah comes to visit Mariam. She admits that she keeps thinking of what Nana said to her before she left. Mullah Faizullah assures her that Nana was always troubled... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 7
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...650 kilometers away, and cooking and cleaning for Rasheed. She is particularly terrified of what Nana told her about chores of intimacy that women have to endure with their husbands. Mariam... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 10
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...the women and children in the neighboring houses. She longs for the nights she and Nana would sit outside, or the afternoons reading the Koran with Mullah Faizullah. As the sun... (full context)
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...morning Mariam unpacks and begins to cook lentils, carrots, and potatoes, kneading dough the way Nana showed her to make bread. She heads out for the communal tandoor, following the women... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 12
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Mariam recalls how Jalil would visit Mariam and Nana at the first of the three days of Eid-ul-Fitr, the celebration to end Ramadan, before... (full context)
Part I: Chapter 13
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...is no kind of answer from a doctor. It’s snowing hard, and Mariam remembers how Nana said that each snowflake is the sigh of a woman suffering somewhere in the world. (full context)
Part I: Chapter 14
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Sometimes, Mariam thinks that she is being punished for abandoning Nana. Other days, she is angry at Rasheed for celebrating prematurely, or at herself for eating... (full context)
Part III: Chapter 27
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
...herself, and so wasn’t in the house when it happened. Mariam recalls the day of Nana’s burial and how nothing could comfort her, not even Mullah Faizullah’s prayers. (full context)
Part III: Chapter 35
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Female Friendship Theme Icon
...as Aziza is curled up asleep on the floor. Mariam starts telling Laila about Jalil, Nana, and Mullah Faizullah, about her humiliation at Jalil’s house and Nana’s suicide. After she’s explained... (full context)
Part III: Chapter 39
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Female Friendship Theme Icon
...the front of the registration window, thinking of the sacrifices a mother makes—like the ones Nana had made, enduring the shame of bearing a harami. She wishes she’d been a better... (full context)
Part III: Chapter 47
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
...of a young Jalil; of Mullah Faizullah playing with her in the stream; and of Nana calling her to dinner in the kolba. (full context)