In A Thousand Splendid Suns, love may not conquer all, but it is a stronger tie than many other social bonds, from social class to ethnic status. Love makes the novel’s characters act in sometimes irrational ways, and their erratic behavior can often be explained by the strong loyalty that stems from love. Mariam’s love for her father Jalil remains constant despite hints that he is ashamed of her harami—she ultimately turns her back on him only out of love for her own mother. The poignant scene at the end of the novel when Laila receives a letter from Jalil meant for Mariam makes clear that his love for her was never entirely stamped out.
Laila, in turn, believes that by marrying Rasheed and thus saving her and Tariq’s baby, she is remaining loyal to Tariq, even after his death. Laila’s love for Tariq also transcends ethnic boundaries—often a source of tension and violence in Afghanistan—as she is Tajik and he Pashtun.
Though love can cross social boundaries in the novel, it is also a way to create a territory of belonging. Tariq and Laila band together in love against the destruction and suffering around them, while Mariam initially believes to find in her marriage to Rasheed a place where she can finally belong. Mariam’s final dramatic act of killing Rasheed is, paradoxically, based on her close relationship with Laila. The novel portrays such an act, though morally complex, as a powerful statement of love.
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging ThemeTracker
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns
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.
For the first time, Mariam could hear [Jalil] with Nana’s ears. She could hear so clearly now the insincerity that had always lurked beneath, the hollow, false assurances.
“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat. But after four years of marriage, Mariam saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid.
It was hard to feel, really feel, Mammy’s loss. Hard to summon sorrow, to grieve the deaths of people Laila had never really thought of as alive in the first place. Ahmad and Noor had always been like lore to her. Like characters in a fable. Kings in a history book.
It was Tariq who was real, flesh and blood.
There would come a day, in fact, years later, when Laila would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory’s grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by Tariq’s name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion—like the phantom pain of an amputee.
She was remembering the day the man from Panjshir had come to deliver the news of Ahmad’s and Noor’s deaths. She remembered Babi, white-faced, slumping on the couch, and Mammy, her hand flying to her mouth when she heard. Laila had watched Mammy come undone that day and it had scared her, but she hadn’t felt any true sorrow. She hadn’t understood the awfulness of her mother’s loss. Now another stranger bringing news of another death. Now she was the one sitting on the chair. Was this her penalty, then, her punishment for being aloof to her own mother’s suffering?
But, miraculously, something of her former life remained, her last link to the person that she had been before she had become so utterly alone. A part of Tariq still alive inside her, sprouting tiny arms, growing translucent hands. How could she jeopardize the only thing she had left of him, of her old life?
“Why have you pinned your heart to an old, ugly hag like me?” Mariam would murmur into Aziza’s hair. “Huh? I am nobody, don’t you see? A dehati. What have I got to give you?”
But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face in deeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.
[Mariam] had passed these years in a distant corner of her mind. A dry, barren field, out beyond dream and disillusionment. There, the future did not matter. And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion.
Mariam regretted her foolish, youthful pride now. She wished now that she had let him in. what would have been the harm to let him in, sit with him, let him say what he’d come to say? He was her father. He’d not been a good father, it was true, but how ordinary his faults seemed now how forgivable, when compared to Rasheed’s malice, or to the brutality and violence that she had seen men inflict on one another.
Though there had been moments of beauty in it. Mariam knew that life for the most part had been unkind to her. But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it. […] Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami daughter of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back.